Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Carole Pope
Gladstone Hotel
8 pm & 10 pm

When 2006 rolled around I didn't know it was going to be a retro year. It's like I woke up in the hey-day of the New Wave era. If it wasn't the Buzzcocks or Charlatans UK, it was Robert Gordon and Billy Bragg. If it wasn't them it was bands that owed their existence to music created in those years between 1979-1982...the Arctic Monkeys who cop a few licks from the Jam and the Raconteurs who are reviving the Detroit Garage scene. So it's fitting I come to close out the year with a trip back down memory lane to see Carole Pope.

I first saw Carole Pope in 1974 doing a Saturday matinee show at the Colonial Tavern on Yonge St. This venue was a 'home away from home' for blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. It's days as a 'happening' place were numbered. So were Yonge Streets. No more Meet Market, no more Nickelodeon. I was still too young to drink at this time, my older cousin happened upon her set the day before and was so blown away he convinced me to make my way over and try to get in. Security wasn't what it used to be, if it was ever anything.

There were about 5 people in the place as Carole and Kevan Staples, her partner in Rough Trade, went through the gyrations. I would have said 'motions' but once you've seen Carole you know they're gyrations. This was very early in their public career, before they had a recording contract.

Some people exude sensuality.
Carole sweated sex.

In tight leather, front zipper opened to the mid-rif, hand jammed deep into her crotch as she screamed her way through the hormonally fueled paeon to lesbian lust unrequited, High School Confidential, she was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Not even on film as this was pre-cable, pre-VHS and pre-porn explosion. I was a fan.

A couple of years later I saw her do two sets at a punk-club called The Edge, in Toronto. The New Wave scene was percolating in Toronto. We had live music clubs up the wazoo, from Larry's Hideaway to Lee's Palace to that club on St Joseph's St where I saw John Cooper Clarke. The Edge had been home to two other shows of an overtly sexual nature, at least an alternative style, as I saw both Wayne County and the Electric Chairs as well as post-op, Jayne County perform live sets. Now Carole's 'alt-lifestyle' was not so apparent to me back at the dark, empty Colonial. There were no girls in the audience then, it's a tap house. So, naturally, I thought she was talking to me from that stage. Turns out not. Over the intervening years Rough Trade developed a hard-core following among the sisterhood. This was a little more apparent in the packed confines of The Edge where sapphic love dolls performed tongue dances in every nook and cranny of the place. What else they used their nooks and crannies for I can't relate here.

An interesting side-bar to this show, local comic Martin Short, a regular at the Toronto chapter of the Second City Review and a high-school friend of Carole's, was opening the show. A weird combination, I thought. It's not like the fan bases will have a lot of overlap. It's more a Venn Diagram with two circles that never meet. Well, not never, Cece and I were there. Most of the audience was not in the mood for a stand up act. One gentleman in particular figured he'd voice his opinion using a mug of beer. Martin stood onstage, soaked and pointed out to the audience to ask: "How many people think that guy is sitting beside someone who is saying 'Man, you're an idiot!" (loud cheers) "How many people think that guy's girlfriend is thinking twice about putting out later?" (loud cheers) "How many people think that guy has a dick 'this' big?" (holding fingers one inch apart to loud cheers). Regained a little respect, Martin did. What he didn't do is show up the next night to finish the stand.

Besides being on the cutting edge of the performance art that is live rock n roll, Kevin and Carole also delved into the outer reaches of available recording technology. In search of a sound as vital and raw as Caroles weapons they recorded a 'direct-to-disc' record of their material, ostensibly a live performance as they cut the two sides 15 times each and selected the best two recordings. Once the disc started recording it took everything, even the between record breaks are actually live dead air...one mistake, the side was fucked. They printed 30,000 copies. Mine is number 9494.

For much more on the history of Rough Trade take a look at this page:
Much More on Rough Trade Page

Now go back up a line and take a look at that page I linked to. Both Carole and Kevan have had some interesting projects through the years I lost track.

Came upon this brief two-set appearance quite by happy accident, which is how most good things occur. We decide to see the whole evening and find ourselves in what can only be described as a 'lesbian bar', let's just say the demographics are becoming more obvious as time rolls on, or I'm becoming more staid. Terrific atmosphere though, everyone seems excited about seeing their friends and seeing their hero.

Both sets are very similar, only one song from the first set didn't appear in the second, Americana. She added Twist of the Knife and a brief foray into Birds of A Feather in the late show.

She opens with a song about the fall of Rough Trade, You Can't Go Back. A little ironic these many years later as she is going back. The band is being inducted into the Indie Artists Hall of Fame in the spring of 2007 and she'll be doing some reunion gigs with Kevan.

For news on current Carole check out her myspace page: Carole's MySpace Page

The set list leans heavily on material from last years Transcend release. Songs not unlike those she was doing in '74, perhaps a little less salacious although with titles like 'Seduction', 'Love Strikes Hard' and the song about eating pussy, 'Edible Flower', it's hard to see where she's mellowed.

Come to think of it, she hasn't changed much, still looking sleek and mean as ever, she's a tight 56, even if she alludes to the toll the years have taken. She's done ok, it seems, having celebrated, surrendered to, then survived the pleasures her new home in LA has to offer.

Big audience favorite was the 'screamo' version of High-School Confidential, her signature song, or albatross, depending on the day, I guess. A world-class pop tune, a aural painting you can visualize without effort. Great lyrics, great delivery. When Carole is finally resting in the tower of song alongside a coughing Hank Williams, a self-deprecatory Leonard Cohen and a medicinally-clean Marianne Faithful, she will be required to play this tune. Hope I'm passing by when she does.

The wonderful 'All Touch/No Contact', which was re-recorded for Transcend was also well received. This song is a classic. As good as anything Cole Porter or Bob Dylan ever wrote, or Elvis ever performed. OK, so I'm prone to hyperbole, it's still great shit. A fusion of tight lyrics and a hot, passionate delivery. I don't think the true genius of this song can be conveyed in words but I'm gonna give it a spin, 'cause words I got.

Three verses, one repeated twice and one slightly shorter than the other two.
The bridge is repeated twice.
Pretty simple, eh? The best ones always are on the surface until you unravel them.

First off, the title: All Touch and No Contact. That's a book all by itself. It plays into the relationships explored in the song and dances around one of the similies. It could be about a marriage 20 years in. It could be about a quick meeting behind the door of the mens room stall.

First verse deals with the girl-girl tryst.
Our protaganist is pushing the face of her love interest away. Carole punches out the words, letting us know who's in charge, if not who's on top. "I pushed, her tense face, away from me./ I pushed her tense face away from me." Same words, subtle difference in the phrasing. The first time she says it the statement is declaratory. The second time it's a narrative description of something that has happened. Something that's happened in a brief instant, while deep in the throes of a passionate embrace, or just breaking from one, perhaps. Has our hero been rejected?
Or disappointed? Or has she seen herself in a mirror? Her partner lays there, with "the hard smile, the voice going on/ like a razor blade on glass." Ouch! That is cold. It seems our anti-diva has bedded her worst nightmare, Paris Hilton. There is a breathless pause between the short laundry list. 'smile' and 'voice', all mouth. That 'razor blade on glass' is just pure magic. Besides being a great methaphor describing the hard, cutting, coldness of the distant or self-absorbed love interest, it also hints of the devil behind the emotions, that other partner of razor blades and glass, cocaine.
After the title line we get the awakening... "it hit me like a slap, all touch and no contact."

The second verse visits a boy-girl hook up. From the outset we see something different in the dynamics of the relationship. "I pushed, his hands, away from me." Guys are always so tactile, eh? Wouldn't be caught dead staring into anybody's face but are ever ready to grope. This tryst seems fueld by booze as all that remains are "splintering fragments of conversation". Or perhaps that's all the guys are capable of delivering. The awakening here is "like a knife in the back". Less intimate than a slap, but definitely more of a 'deal breaker'.

The repeated bridge seems to belong with this verse, sounds like it may have been the denouement of the evening: "Tense my body for the final attack/ All touch, no contact." That's one sad vision of love.

One floating verse, really a precursor to the other two, describes how this mess all gets started as the singer takes us back to early in the evening when she saw "challenging eyes over the edge of a cocktail glass/ hoping i'd react." Or maybe it's the night after, when the same scene gets played out.

As words on the page the song is pretty strong. When performed it's a monster.

Two other points of high interest, besides the excellent quality of the performances of Weapons, was the outing for "Americana" in the first set and Birds of A Feather in the late set. "Americana" is right up there with some of the best descriptive narratives of life in modern, post 9/11 America I've heard this year. That includes Neil Young doing "Living With War", Peaches doing "Impeach My Bush", Billy Bragg singing a new version of "Waiting For the Great Leap Forward" and Randy Newman sardonically poking a stick at the "Great Nations of Europe."
"Birds of A Feather" to close the night was a short and special treat. Ain't nothing like being surrounded my like-minded people and celebrating it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Raconteurs
Opening for
Bob Dylan

Enjoyed an interesting mini-tour on the eastern seaboard this fall where I had the pleasure of seeing Jack White and his Raconteurs open 4 different shows for the Man, the Master, Bob Dylan. The past and the future all rolled up in one. And that’s just Jack White. It says a lot for Jack’s drawing power that the Dylan show in Philadelphia, Nov. 18,2006, was my 101st lifetime but I wouldn’t have passed a hundred if the Racs weren’t the opening set. I was perfectly content to take in the 4 Canadian dates and end my Dylan concert-going career at 99 shows. I could then have spent the rest of my life saying: “I saw Bob Dylan 99 times! Would have seen him a hundred but three digits is a little excessive, don’t you think?” Not to be. The lure of Jack White, the lure of Boston, the lure of friends at every show and a party around every corner, were a little too much to convince me to show restraint.

The reasons this tour ticket was a match made in heaven are just too numerous to list here, I’ll focus on the opening act. The Raconteurs are bringing a limited set list and a lot of volume to the stage. Jack’s committed to making this manifestation of his unstoppable talent something distinctly different from the White Stripes. It’s a much more structured schtick. These are new-age outlaws. Their history reaches back to the spaghetti westerns of the ‘60’s, they grew up riding their broomstick-horses and fightin’ and ‘ ‘cussin’ in the mud and the blood and the ginger beer. (You see why we have Bang Bang in the set list?) They are boys and men and boys again. They are broken boys. They are soldiers and cowboys. Their sound is mired in the garage-band ethos of MC5 and the Stooges. (You see why we have the original composition 5 on the 5 and the cover, Headin’ For the Texas Border, in the set list?)

Four blistering shows, two in Boston on the weekend of the 11th and 12th of November. The next weekend we get one show in Fairfax and one show in Philadelphia. The Raconteur portion of the tour consists of 8 shows. We’re seeing shows #2,3,7 and 8. A few interesting sub-themes crop up during the two lost weekends. One is the volume. Two is the audience response. Three is the volume. Four is the band response. Five is the volume. Six is the anti-climactic ‘Jack ‘n Bob’ component.

The pre-show music, courtesy of the opening band, is Ramones, great feel good songs to get everyone’s eardrums warmed up. When lights go down the introductory music is supplied by Sergio Leone’s score for Once Upon A Time in America. Just to establish a mood. . (Check out some studio shots of that production to see where the album cover came from.) The band generally comes on during this segment and launches into a “Hands intro” before breaking into either Intimate Secretary or Hands itself. I prefer it when Hands is up front because that means we get something even more kick-ass to close the show. We got the variations split down the middle, two of each. One evening we get the distinct added pleasure of the band continuing the OUATIA theme music on their own instruments before switching to Hands.

The set is broken down into a few distinct components: The opening portion, primarily straight-up rock, consisting of the original tunes; Hands, and/or Intimate Secretary and Level. Steady As She Goes makes an appearance if Hands isn’t played. All these songs serve to warm up the band and the audience but it’s just an appetizer. The most notable change made in this segment was the flowering of Level, once a cute 4 minute pop-song, now an 8-minute guitar blow-out. Steady As She Goes was given a couple different treatments, the best of which was the slow version, emulating the single. The set lists are static but the arrangements change every night. OK, not so much the ‘arrangement’ as the delivery. Some variation is tossed into virtually every song to make it just a little bit (or a lot) different than the last time you heard it.

Band intro’s come after that brief opening three-song flurry. Brendan Benson alternates with Jack White when doing the band intros. Thankfully they are filling the air space with less ‘banter’ during these opening sets. Sometimes trying to be cute takes away from the act and Jack and Brendan have a tendency to egg each other on to the point of silliness. I could relate a show where the Capital of Asia was the subject under discussion onstage, but I won’t. Still the band intros proved to be the point where the artists would convey their feelings to us. Starting right up with the first night in Boston, only the second show, and already the news getting back to the band was that the music was too loud for the old Dylan fans. Not this fan, that’s for sure, but I did hear some comments to that effect, when I could hear anything at all. Brendan closes his introductions with this little quip: “You can take your earplugs out now, we’re going to do some acoustic numbers.” There was a day off in between the opening night in Portland ME and this show in Boston so the band had time to read some reviews, even scour the ‘Net or talk to flesh-and-blood fans. They didn’t see my blog or find my posts at the Dylanpool or drop me a line, because the last thing on my ‘complaint list’ would have been the volume. The following weekend Jack continues this theme by making similar comments and introducing the band as “The Earplugs”, instead of by their proper name. It was cute enough. Perhaps an easy target given the generation gap between the artists and their fan bases, but it threatened to grow mean. Following song #3, Steady As She Goes, Jack starts the intro’s by announcing: “OK, that was the duration of our set, we’re all done. HAAAAA! Some people, ah, some people would wish so…”

Second part of the Raconteurs extravaganza is ostensibly the “acoustic portion”, as Brendan alluded. This consists of Together and Yellow Sun, two original compositions, most likely written primarily by the more gentile Brendan. You get both, or you get one with a cover like It Ain’t Easy or A House Is Not A Motel. I absolutely love Together, the way it sounds, what it says, how it’s delivered. It contains one of the best rhymes of the millenia, to date: “I’m adding something new to the mixture, to bring a different hue to your picture.” Well done, A rhyme inside a rhyme within the lines and a subtle tongue twist on phonetically similar words to close the couplet.

Third part of the show is the heart and soul of the Raconteurs, a mini-opera in 4 parts, think of it as Jack’s 4 Seasons: Store Bought Bones – Bang Bang – Broken Boy Soldiers – Blue Veins! That is a killer 30 minutes any night. 40 minutes some nights. Once in awhile, if they are playing back-to-back shows in the same city, you’ll get a slight variance in the sequence. It’s all very alphabetical though: SBB-BB-BBS-BV. Economic use of letters, eh? Jack’s always had a thing for “3’s”, from the Stripes days. I love the acronym-cum-palindrome that the first three songs of this opera make up, SBBBBBBS. This segment of the show is live performance rock at its apex. From the extended intro to SBB, called the ‘Bane Rendition’ but eerily reminiscent of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, through to the muddy blues intro on Blue Veins, this is captivating music. Every song is an emotional journey from ear-splitting screams to soft whispered wishes. From hard pounding drums, courtesy of the best drummer I’ve seen onstage this year, Patrick Keeler, through to Jack’s guitar, it’s relentlessly pounding, concussive, rock n roll. Even within this segment there’s room for movement. The treatment Bang, Bang gets every night is a little different. A copper mic set up at the rear of the stage is often employed in BBS and sometimes in BB, to the chagrin of many I’m sure. The intro to Blue Veins is a song by itself and the crowd often applauds at the end, thinking they’ve heard an instrumental, before Jack explodes into the song. One night, having missed his cue to return to the mic during an instrumental break in Blue Veins, Jack treated us to a little ad-lib, spoken-word, interlude: “I looked her straight in the eyes/there was nobody else there but me and her/ and I said straight to her/ I think you know exactly what I’m talking about/ you’ve probably all been there once or twice yourself/ and for a second you probably believed it….”

From here to the end of the show it’s all gravy. This opening set doesn’t allow for much in the way of extra songs so it’s been either Steady As She Goes or Hands coupled with a cover, Headin’ for the Texas Border, more often than not. In their longer set you’re likely to get a song in here with heavy local interest…a cover of Shocking Blue in the Lower Countries or The Beatles in Liverpool…just to show you they’re paying attention.

The tour ended with no reprise of the “Jack ‘n Bob” collaboration that I witnessed in Detroit a couple years ago. Didn’t think it would happen, but you can always hope. For the most part the Dylan community took very well to the band. That made the stage comments all the more strange. People either have a finely tuned ear for criticism or they don’t get enough opinions. Though it’s absolutely of no consequence there were a couple moments in the Philly that closed the Raconteurs portion of the tour, that could be construed to be sour grapes. OK, maybe that’s a bit strong.

Besides the blurb about the early set ending quoted earlier, during Store Bought Bones, just before the song breaks into a mantric chant of “you can’t buy what you can’t find what you can’t” Jack inserts: “All the hippies say.” Hmmm, is that a shot. Maybe some spill-over from not being invited onstage? If he felt at all slighted that Dylan didn’t even thank the opening band he shouldn’t be…Dylan rarely does unless the band has a buxom, smiling babe playing fiddle.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bob Dylan
Grudge Match
London ON
Toronto ON

What a difference a day makes...well, three days really, as Dylan's Toronto set was vastly improved over the London show. Song selections aside, it seems the days of 'monster surprises' are behind us, the difference was all in the delivery...or, as they say on TV up here when hawking pizza (and that's all BOb's doing, isn't it?), the delivery was delicio!

The ACC is a cavernous, unforgiving bowl that holds 20,000, but the sound is superb. The pre-show music consists entirely of Johnny Cash.
Appropriate,for the headliner anyway.

The Foo Fighters open the show with the same set list we had in London, just a little tweak to the song order. Powerful stuff. Grohl is a rock legend simply for his proximity to the supernova that was Kurt Cobain. He deserves respect for his own immense talents that range from song-writing, playing multiple instruments (though we only had the acoustic guitar this evening) and his screamo-performance style of singing. Nothing to choose from when comparing the London and Toronto shows, both were consistently excellent and too short by half.

Which is to say that Dylan fears nothing. Least not challenges from anyone in the industry. The Foos were an "A List" opening act that made this leg of the tour a bargain. They drew a big crowd as they played their 1 hour opening set to 19,000 appreciative fans. Got themselves two standing ovations for their efforts.

Between London and Toronto there was plenty to choose from, in both quality and song selections. Both shows open with Maggie's Farm, which is a little unsettling. I do like the new 'arrangement', not drastically altered but different enough to make you take notice. I give the nod to the London performance, the vocals were sharper, he played more with 'dropping' the last word of the line into the music after an almost imperceptible pause. In Toronto, though his voice was strong, he seemed to rush the words. What was 'dime' in London, was 'daaaahhhhhhh' in Toronto. The same modified musical arrangement but you have to be wary of a song where the singer tells you: "they say 'sing while you slave!', I just get bored." It's not like you can honestly ask for a rebate an hour and a half later.

She Belongs to Me without the vocal stumbles. That's the way it oughta be. Letter perfect delivery and the band is just floating along that lazy river. The degree of disappointment felt over the botching of any one song over another is mostly linked to the stature of that song in your memory. I mean if he loses his place in the middle of Wiggle Wiggle it's hardly like that's a heartwrenching loss. Perhaps not the same as when he loses his place in a song with some majesty, like Visions, or Mississippi or ... She Belongs to Me. The stumble in the London version was like a balloon popping.

Lonesome Day Blues absolutely slays TDTD, almost by default. The Tweedles we got in London was interestingly fresh. Some new guitar lines by Denny almost give this song a reason to exist. Almost. LDB, on the other hand, needs no reason outside of it's excellence. This one didn't quite reach the exhuberant heights of the Rochester '04 version but it's always well treated. Musically the song is a little more sparse than it has been, it's not quite as fast as I remember it, but it's still time well wasted.

Positively 4th Street didn't have much competition in slot #4, being up against the anemic Girl of the North Country. A monster song not terribly botched.

It's Alright Ma, I'm only compeeeeting...with myself again. Toronto absolutely creams London in this cage match. Punchy, powerful version without being overly weighed down by the 'bass'y, thunder, sound blanket it's wrapped in.

Most Likely in London was the best I've heard it in years. Too bad it's facing a wonderful sounding, crystal clear, lifetime-debut-in-any-medium, When the Deal Goes Down. Add to the fact I really like this song, that I could make out over 75% of the lyrics and could tell the story the singer was trying to relate...well, then it's no contest.

A very good Not Dark Yet in London beats out a pared-down but always interesting Highway 61.

The debut of Rollin' and Tumblin' in London was the first song i've heard off the new album. Couldn't hardly make out more than 20% of the words, didn't like the ones I could make out. That won't be enough to carry it past a second strong outing for Masters of War. I spent a lot of years not really listening to this song, so for me it was really fresh. I'd say it deserves more respect than it gets but for a song written in 1962 and played regularly to loud cheers in 2006 I'd say it doesn't need my help.

The same two songs meet up in slot nine and this time the nod goes to the better performed Toronto version of Rollin' and Tumblin' over the more than adequate version of Masters we received in London. Tonight's Rollin', though no less offensive, is much clearer. The LDB sister-song.

London's Desolation Row, even with the unfortunate loss of tempo about 3/4 the way through, still kills DTTIA...again, by default. You can add Don't Think Twice, It's Alright to the growing list of old songs that are sounding much better with slightly modified deliveries. The upsinging, almost absent tonight, is most evident on this song, it's downfall.

Tangled Up In Blue sees the band all huddled together in a tight circle between Bob's piece of shit organ and the drums. Enjoyable version and while it never soars to heights it's attained before, it doesn't sink either. It gets the nod over a slim-line version of Hwy 61 we got in London.

From here on in it's head to head battles. All the Toronto versions were superior to the London versions. The two new songs for the sheer clarity. Nettie was cool. The three old songs for the energy of the performance.

Final score: London 3 Toronto 11

Friday, October 27, 2006

Jack Whites'
Red, Hot Blues

A couple years ago I put together this one disc compilation in an attempt to open some doors for friends of mine.
Jack White has many doors.
Most of them shut you out but if you keep searching you'll find one that leads you to a wonderful world of musical expression.

White's development has continued in the time since this was put together. He's currently stretching the boundaries of what he can accomplish in a 'rock ensemble' setting, with his friends from the Motor City, in a band called The Raconteurs.

These recordings capture him in the period just before he broke on the mainstream scene to the apex of the White Stripes portion of his career, The Satan Tour '05.

It's built around his choice of blues covers originally performed by the likes of Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson and Son House...with a handful of other songs tossed into the mix.
Interspersed among the classics are some of his own songs, more derivative examples than interpretive.

There's a lot of good stuff in here but the NOT TO BE MISSED tracks are #2,7,9,10,12,13,14 and 15. And at least one of the "Death Letters".

And #10...which i said, but i really mean.

01-I Just Can't Keep From Cryin' - Death Letter 2005-08-17 Los Angeles CA

02-Lord Send Me An Angel 2001-03-01 Silverlake CA

03-Ball & Biscuit - Instinct Blues - Ball & Biscuit 2005-09-16 Toronto ON

04-House of the Risin' Sun 2005-09-09 Indianapolis IN

05-Lafayette Blues 2001-09-14 Houston TX

06-Sister Do You Know My Name 2005-08-17 Los Angeles CA

07-Hello Operator 2005-09-16 Toronto ON

08-Little Bird>Got Your Money - Little Bird 2004-08-01 Naeba Japan

09-St James Infirmary Blues 2005-09-19 Providence RI

10-The Big 3 Killed My Baby 2005-09-30 Detroit MI

11-Lovesick 2001-11-29 Montpellier France

12-You're Southern Can Is Mine 2001-03-01 Silverlake CA

13-Dyin' Crapshooter Blues 2001-06-03 Detroit MI

14-Stop Breaking Down 2002-06-30 Los Angeles CA

15-Stones In My Passway 2005-09-21 Boston MA

16-Instinct Blues 2005-09-30 Detroit MI

17-Let's Build A Home - Goin' Back to Memphis 2003-07-02 Chicago IL

18-Outlaw Blues 2003-11-24 Camden NJ

19-Rat Tease - Take A Whiff On Me 2003-05-30 Vienna Austria

20-You Can't Get That Stuff No More - Death Letter 2005-09-13 Louisville KY

21-Boll Weevil Blues 2005-08-17 Los Angeles CA

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Stop, Drop 'N Skank
Avondale High
Toronto ON

Avondale Alternative School held a student organized fund raiser on Friday the 13th and they had no bad luck whatsoever. Headlining the evening were Stop,Drop'N Skank, a ska-reggae outfit in it's early stages of development. The evening was rounded out with performances by students 'n staff.

My son Michael filmed the event as part of his own apprenticeship. mrmikelproductions is starting to get it's legs, as chances for practice and promotion keep popping up.

Here's how it went down on Friday night.

The students are stoked. A youthful excitement permeates the gymnasium. Or is that the tantilizing scent of the forbidden fragrance, AXE? Squealing girls and posing boys bounce and bray on the boards. They've spent a good amount of time and energy decking the hall out in two-tone checkers, one step beyond 1979. Tables at the back are filled with pastries and pop. No special brownies allowed. We're ready for a sock-hop, though they'd never call it that without blushing.

Within a half hour of doors the gym is filling up pretty good. A small contingency from SD'nS takes the stage for a warm-up number, a la Billy Bragg, one electric guitar. Dan, lead singer/guitarist, sings a new song, a pop-tune probably called "Won't Say Anything At All". A bitterweet tale about hit-and-miss kissing and that precarious path that lies between a boy's desire and his skills.

Dan gives the stage over to Ian Turner, the performing principal. A little outside the box for a principal but all the staff here seem to have a great rapport with the kids. One teacher helped with the sound, another was all aglow chasing students around with her digital camera to catalogue the extravaganza. It was like a prom without all the cherry busting and puking.

Ian's set gave me a chance to recognize some songs. He reaches back into the heyday of popular music...the 50's and 60's to perform the classics. Earlier he'd told me he would have never made it through University without the focus music gave him. We were discussing the effort and talent the young kids displayed...from the performers, to the organizers and the kid behind the camera. All of them testing themselves and their world. At the center of it all, music.

The kids are dancing up a storm as Ian drives through a fast version of The Shirelles, Mama Said. A good life lesson, even if you're not still in school. He follows with the Goffin/King song, made famous by The Drifters, Up On The Roof. Now if you'd bet me I'd be thinking about Clyde McPhatter tonight you could have take a hundred bucks off me.
Ian moves on, warning the kids it's time to slow it down, before he croons an Isaac Hayes penned tune that I believe he came to like when Sam & Dave performed it, When Something Is Wrong With My Baby. It's a bit difficult to hold the attention of combustible teens with these types of songs but Ian's doing great. There's some distracted chatter from the periphery, more than offset by some slow dancers in the center of the gym.
We're back to The Shirelles for another 'prom night' classic...Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Not sure if anybody's up for answering but it does get the crowd engaged in a clap-a-long.
For his closing number Ian funks it up a bit and pulls out the Sam Cooke gem, Twisting the Night Away. It's the Sam Cooke version, not the Rod Stewart version, trust me on this. What a great set of feel good, feel sad, feel something songs.

Next onstage is a student and diva-in-the-making, Kabota. She bounces onto the stage with a smile that provides more light than the rather rudimentary spots being used this evening. She seems slightly embarassed by the hoots and hollers of her friends as she displays her wonderful singing talents but she has no reason to be shy. Her two songs are done 'karaoke' style, with canned music. There's nothing canned about her prescence as she gives a shout out to 'the hood', her Avondale posse. She doesn't aim low with her songs either as she belts out Mariah Carey's Vision of Love to the howling appreciation of her friends. This is followed by a cover of Whitney Houston's He Fills Me Up. I think that's a metaphor. A strong voice with excellent range and another enjoyable interlude.

SD'nSkank are back onstage for their first set of the show. Drummer Gavin introduces Stacey, who's on trumpet, and Andy, who plays the trombone, as this evening's dance instructors. Guitarists Dan ,Stefan and bassist Aaron provide the beat as the "skank" is demonstrated. It's a simple enough dance, you bend over at the waist like you're trying to hide an unfortunate accident, and trot on the spot, arms flailing. If that description doesn't tell you why I don't dance, nothing will. It ain't about me though, not by far, it's about the kids, and they are alright. Gavin sits down behind the drums to pick up the rhythm. Lesson complete, audience warm. It's time to get steeped.

Gavin starts the song with a smash opening, followed by Stefan's slashing guitar chords before James Dean explodes from the PA system. We got the full 'two-tone' sound going on this composition as the horns are front and center. It's a song about how the beauty of James Dean makes even us guys feel funny.

It's followed by another machine-gun ska song, Water...girl troubles I think.

One piece of advice I can give the band here: no need to drop the "f bomb" in every song. I mean there's no doubt it's a versatile word. Maybe the most but repetitive use of the word is more a sign of 'verbal laziness' than 'coolness'. Get a thesaurus, there's other ways to convey the sentiment.

The music is electric though. They are missing one of their trumpets, Julia is absent tonight, but they are a dervish of sound and activity onstage. They have a very good sense of how they come across. When the horns aren't playing the players are skanking. Everyone moves always, save Aaron on bass but you can chalk that up to the 'bill wyman syndrome'.

The first set wraps up with Reptile, which I think is a song about licking. Much heavier sound to this, more rock than ska or reggae. Last song is reminiscent of "My Daughter Is One" (extra points if you know where that came from), Our Outdoor Friends, a song about the thin line.

A brief break allows some to catch a breath of fresh air, others to catch a breath of less fresh air.

The second set starts with three 'emo' songs from a couple of guys who make up another local band, Snatch. They are followed by a student, Azad, who performs three impressive flamenco songs. Both these artists needed a more subdued environment for their talents to shine. This is a rock concert. Snatch can be found of myspace. Azad, well, he's really good and should get his own concert.

Stop, Drop 'N Skank are back to close the night with an instrumental while Stacey took a bathroom break.
In the second set we get a reggae sounding "Faith", and no reggae band is complete without a song about the lovely green.
I'm too old and my kids are too subdued for me to have any idea what "Ritalin Rock" is about.
Show ends with this generations version of "Save the Last Dance For Me", a much more forward "Stay the Night". Seems the boys have overcome some of the clumsiness they showed in their earlier 'girl' songs.

For an amateur production this was one enjoyable evening. Good luck to Avondale and SD'nS.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Metropolis Montreal QC

Thunder cracks! at 4 am Saturday. Happy b'day Cece. The cat scurries out of the room in fear and I spend the next hour wondering how long the rain will delay our trip to Montreal. Circumstances alter cases and we're on the road at 6 am instead of our scheduled 7 am departure time. No matter as the storm was moving south to north and we were driving west to east. Arrived in Montreal at noon to meet a fellow fan from Toronto, Dave Caley, in the parking lot opposite our hotel. Most of us are staying at the Hotel Villa De France, a bit of a risk, not like staying at the Holiday Inn. It's directly adjacent to the venue, a definite plus. The hotel used to have clientele who rented rooms by the hour but has recently undergone a change of ownership and some refurbishing. A small 20 room hotel, you have to be careful when you book if you like a private bathroom. Very European. No phone in your room. Not a not in 'extras'. The venue, and hotel, are located in the 'red light' district, a few blocks stretching beyond the Place Des Arts, a mere 15 minute walk from the heart of the entertainment district. It's not that threatening at all. Actually, it's colorful. Rooms are reasonably priced. Think I'll stay here next time I'm in the city.

This is just a quick hit into the city to catch a show from one of the premiere performing artists alive today, Jack White. Not enough time for any real sight-seeing but we are smack dab in the middle of some interesting Canadian literature birthing grounds. Our hotel is only a couple blocks from Moredecai Richler's St Urbain. Leonard Cohen's Westmount, where our host lives, is only about 15 minutes from where we are located. A world away in some respects but if you had a few hours you could take a decent tour.

Our friend Ryan is coming in from Ottawa with a posse of his friends, most special among them, his much-better half, Teri. They surprise us by getting here before their scheduled ETA, if only by a bit. Aaron and Janine are along and they still have 6 more friends stashed at another hotel. We crack the jack and green early and get in our hello's before we take off for our respective meets.

Cece and I have made our way to Brutopia on Crescent Street to hook up with a long time cyber-friend, David Hanley. We're through our first round when David shows up in time to pick up the second. The menu is not as substantial as I'd hoped so we make our way out onto St Catherines to land at a cafe with some meaty open faced sandwiches. With that detail out of the way we're back to jack 'n green at the hotel. The kids had been out shopping and Ryan drops by for 'hello's' and a round. Sooner than you'd think it was time to head into the venue. The rather lengthy lineup that formed outside the door to our hotel has been inside for a good half hour already but there's still plenty of room in front of the soundboard.

David and Cece take up residence at a table just behind the soundboard and I get ready to tape Dr Dog. I know nothing about this band, just their reviews at the Little Room messageboard where most Stripes fans think they are boring. Ryan mentioned earlier they'd opend for Clap Your Hands And Say Heee Hawww! (or some such band). That didn't lift them up any in my estimation. I thought Dr Dog was one black guy with a beat box. Turns out it's a handful of scruffy lookin' white kids playing a handful of nondescript tunes. I'll give them a more detailed listen when I transfer the recording but until then I'll wait for them to team up with Skinny Puppy and Snoop Dog for the "Three Dog Night Tour".

Another round in between sets and with little delay and less fanfare the Raconteurs are onstage.

I'm still not getting Intimate Secretary. It's fine as a 'wall of sound' warmup but it doesn't have much definition onstage. Memorable only for the audience response when Jack utters his first syllables. Cacaphony describes it well. For me the show starts with the 'call and respond' on Level, which we get in the second slot.

I've spent the better part of the afternoon describing the neat trick the Raconteurs are doing this tour. They open with the musical 'outro' to Hands and generally close the set with the full version. If you loop the tape it's a concert without a beginning or an end. So tonight we get Hands in the third slot, which is good because it's out of the way, blowing that 'loop' theory out of the water.

There's a running joke tonight that is focussed on what city is the capital of Asia. It's likely this started during some late night drinking session but it's carried over to the stage. It's not making much sense to us because we weren't in on the "you had to be there" part. Brendan guesses "Dallas" during the band intro. Jack laughs. We scratch our heads. We're informed that each of the Raconteurs has a mother and Jack closes the band introductions with: "And I'll be Jack White tonight if you want me to."

Into Brendan's homage to Pink Floyd (if you ask my wife that's any song he sings), Yellow Sun. During the most important verse, or at least my favorite verse, Brendan uses the stage to continue the Asian schtick: "We wrote our names down on the sidewalk/ Jack, is the capital of Asia...is it...Bangkok?" Good rhyme with 'sidewalk' for an impromptu interjection. Of course Jack's got nothing to rhyme his "what we meant" to, and he doesn't try to match Brendan's improv, he just plays it straight.

And that, my friends, is the 'suck-ass' portion of the show because things start to get interesting right about now.

We're into the face-smashing 5 on the 5. Got no idea where this song comes from, only have about a quarter of the lyrics down as yet. It's a substantial change in tempo that catapults Jack into the middle of the show at his 'screamo' best. A brief respite as Brendan performs It Ain't Easy, a great cover popular before most of this audience was born.

There's no 'keyboard' Jack tonight. He's impinging on Brendan's space periodically but making no move to push Fertiti of the ivories. Store Bought Bones opens with a modified introduction, not the 'spirit in the sky'version, just some funky guitar improvisations before they do the Bane rendition and explode into the main song. Rather lenghty version tonight. Jack's found some breathing room on most of the songs, they've all come a long way in the 6 months since they took this baby on the road. Especially the blues-based rockers, not so much the wussy pop stuff.

The understated lead-in to Bang Bang does little to gain the attention of the primarily francophone crowd standing near me. Normally this would be bothersome but there is no more beautiful sound than a girl talking French, so it was tolerable. This song is clocking in at near 10 minutes now and it's become the passion queen of the show. It starts, it stops, it starts, it stops...the breaks are getting longer, the transitions are getting even louder and that doesn't even include losing Jack to some extended solo's.

There's no pacing involved in the rocket-blast that is Broken Boy Soldiers. A runaway train into the encore break. Have I mentioned Patrick Keeler yet? He's a dynamo. Fast becoming my favorite rock drummer currently on the road.

Seems we're at the encore early but time flies when you're having fun. A little more of an extended break, maybe two, three minutes as the band probably takes a saline IV or at least chugs a pitcher of Perrier.

Headin' for the Texas Border picks up where BBS left off...a hundred miles an hour and out of control. Just like it's supposed to be. This song suits the persona of the Raconteurs so well. Always runnin' from the law. Snakes on a stage. Beaten, nay, broken boy soldiers. Even "Bang Bang" fits this motif as it's a story about unrequited play fighting. Always with the games and the fightin'. Boys (and men) and boys, again. Even "A House is Not A Motel" is filled with travellin' and singin' and blood.

Fan fodder next, Steady As She Goes will be fresh in the minds of the crowd as they mill about outside. That is if they didn't slip into a coma during Yellow Sun.

Show closes with the epic Blue Veins, another 10 minute jack-stravaganza. Along with Big 3 Killed My Baby and Ball and Biscuit this is the third song that will appear on Jack's career restrospective at the Smithsonian. It's that good.

We spill out onto St Catharines for a post-show meet-and-greet while the crowd moves away from our hotel. I pass on hitting any bars with the youngun's and we close the night with the show playing on the computer speakers and 'wind down' chat in the hotel room.

Breakfast plans are scuttled when real rain threatens to slow down the ride home. Cece and I are on the highway by 10 am as the kids rise from their slumber. We'll see them down the road sometime, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Billy Bragg
Music Hall Toronto ON

Billy Bragg passed through Toronto last week during a “retrospective” tour to flaunt his new box sets and a book. One year shy of 50 he hasn’t lost his love for the underdog or his spite for the entitled and empowered. He has mellowed though. A little embarrassed by the support he put behind Tony Blair, who he calls ‘George Bushs’ poodle’, he still insists it’s more important to be active with the activists than sleep in with the sleepers. A more mature Billy accepts you have to work with the tools you have and worse than being a Conservative, worse than being a Capitalist, worse than being a member of the BNP (strike that, there’s not much worse than that), is being a cynic. ‘Cause cynics have lost their faith in the innate goodness of man and it’s hard to improve your lot if that’s your attitude. Actually, looking back at that, Billy’s not only mellowed, he’s slipped into a coma. Much less bitter than you might think, he’s really a ‘happy-go-lucky’ bloke who just feels compelled to point out the social inequities.

Billy’s rich now. Has a big house on the water. Motorized vehicles. Doesn’t have to work for a living. All these things can now be slung back at him in an attempt to ignore the message while smearing the messenger. It’s a trap the right uses to shut up those who may have some power from speaking out for those who have none. I mean if middle-class whites from the North didn’t make such a big stink about apartheid in the Southern US would the advances made in the 1950’s and 1960’s have been achieved? Give him credit for this: he still lives in the UK, unlike the Strolling Bones and other megastars who have fled to a tax-haven in Europe or on some Island off the coast of France.

In the tradition of Woody Guthriehe is one of the few remaining troubadours. This tour sees him standing center stage with his guitar and two amps. Most of the show is electric, all except the first encore where some Guthrie songs and a Leadbelly rewrite are done acoustic.

The tour has had stops in Halifax, Ottawa and Montreal as Billy goes west. He had some stories to relate about those shows, noting it was a good time to be in Halifax with a British accent and a guitar, one week before the Rolling Stones were set to entertain 60,000 fans. Free beer and ticket requests from everyone. In Ottawa he knew he’d have a good time ‘cause there’s nothing looser than a civil servant on a weekend break from a mind-numbing and soul-sucking job working for the man. (I paraphrase.) The fans in Montreal were…well, if you don’t think Quebec is a ‘distinct’ society, you haven’t visited. They still smoke in church there. Little ashtrays in the confessional. To honour their uniqueness Billy played the entire Life’s a Riot w/ Spy V Spy EP in the second encore.

There’s an opening act. Some kid called Seth Lakemanwho has a fiddle and a little guitar. Four songs, maybe five. He was 20 minutes late taking the stage. Don’t think his set lasted that long. Didn’t suck though. Kind of like a sober Ashley MacIsaac in pants. Real east-coast, Celtic feel to his songs.

Billy is a tad late coming on, for reasons he’ll explain later. Off the top he reaches all the way back to his first EP from 1983, to gives us the wonderful ‘To Have and To Have Not’. A cautionary tale about the clampdown. A familiar story of closed doors and a rite of passage for all young males and females. Next to the unlimited potential of a newborn babe there is nothing more overrated than a university degree. Especially in a society that judges the outside before they evaluate the inside. Just a slight hint of the difficulties to be faced by generations of youth: where have all the good jobs gone? (“The factories are closing..”)

Fearing the ‘jobs’ part of the previous message may have been too hard to suss out Billy follows up with a no-brainer. NPWA (No Power Without Accountability) opens with the bleak landscape of missing jobs and cheap, exploitable labour in third world markets. It’s a song from 2001 and 18 years later the corpocracy is still the root of the problem. It’s a monster song, covering everything from downsizing, job security in the global market, the IMf and it’s corporate based tax policies (I mean shouldn’t Mexico be trying to raise taxes until they at least have SOME public services?), and the placebo we call “one man-one vote”, democracy.

Chat time, and we get more than a few of these. Normally I’m not big on between song talk. John Prine I can take. Ray Davies should shut up and play the songs. Enjoyed Buck 65’s chatter this summer. Leonard Cohen…more songs. Billy Bragg is a wonder to behold when he goes off on a ‘rant’. Lot’s of self-effacing comedy, empathy for others and some biting sarcasm. He’s a captivating speaker, even if you have to listen carefully to separate the accent from the words. He does play the “hello Cleveland” card a bit, some of the stage patter is orchestrated, meant to receive a cheap cheer. “Rowdy fuckers for a Sunday night!” would seem, on the surface, to be an acknowledgement of an enthusiastic crowd on a night normally reserved for prayers and cross-dressing. Except he gave the same ‘hey-o’ to the Friday night crowd in Ottawa. Not sure why, there’s nothing particularly surprising about rowdy Friday nighters. Give the man a break though, he’s gonna be up there for two hours, he has to bring something scripted. He tells the crowd there’s no sense in doing that ‘slow clap’ thing to make the artist come out faster since his pre-show ritual involves not drugs or meditation, but a good shit. No amount of clapping is going to make him hurry.

Into the ‘time capsule’ and exit in 1983. A Lover Sings, another cautionary tale about shooting your wad too early. I don’t know who Teresa and Steve are but they’d best stay away from the apple tree. In the words of Bruce Springsteen, “love’s like that, sure it is.” Underneath the tale of love gone out the window there is some excellent detail, amazing what stays with you forever. How it’s the small things you remember when the big thing blows up.

While tuning his lone guitar so he can play it sweet, Billy regales us with more opinions about global warming and possibility of polar bears tramping right down Yonge St to the heart of Toronto. A piece on the current Liberal leadership race where a neo-con in sheep’s clothing is trying to usurp the mantle. (He’s up against a silk-stocking Socialist trying to steal power from the other side of the spectrum. I’m hoping for a long bloody battle, not caring who wins.) Gotta love this about Billy, he may succumb to the odd industry trick to get a cheer but he absolutely respects the cultures he visits and does his best to be somewhat conversant on local issues. He speaks a bit about his book and the fear of being labeled an “intellectual”. A label not likely to stick. He’s nowhere near stuffy enough to be a Brit, never mind an intellectual.

Back farther into the time machine, back to the late 1500’s for a medley of John Barleycorn, an old English folk ballad that was revised as late as Robert Burns’ 1782 poem, and Billy’s own English, Half-English. This song speaks to the new book that addresses “Englishness” and what it means. It’s a cultural war being fought in the UK, it’s been fought for hundreds of years. Seems like the Welsh, Irish and Scots may prevail in the short-run, though the wave of immigration is relentless and what you see in the big cities now will soon enough be seen in the rural communities in time. It’s neither good, nor bad. It is just a fact of life on this little blue ball on which we live. What is required though, is a less homogeneity and a little more tolerance for others. During the introduction he tells us his first sense of being "English" came when he heard two Jewish kids from New York sing a song about Scarborough Fair. He's a closet S&G fan! By songs end he’s totally deconstructed English society, by halves, right down to their Lebanese patron saint, George and his three lions.

St George gets Billy off on a long ramble about patron saints, multiple jobs and hockey. You’d have to hear it to believe it. Suffice it to say lions are more impressive than carrots and who wouldn’t kill to be the patron saint of Barcelona?

He introduces a new song, Farm Boy, noting it’s debut in Montreal, where he figured himself safe ‘cause they were less likely to understand the words. Evocative of Dylan’s John Brown in that the soldier sees himself in his enemy, just another farmer. It’s a song about a boy sent to do a company’s job and the longing for the only thing that matters…a home to go back to.

Like Soldiers Do speaks to the seemingly never-ending cycle of war associated with empire. I’m not crystal clear on the references but my ‘best guess’ is the line about “advance(ing) across poppy fields” might refer to the Warizistan War of 1936 between England and Afghanistan. Some babies never learn, eh? This song was written in 1983, I think Billy would be amused at his prescience. Well, maybe ‘amused’ isn’t the right word.

Roadie brings out a second cup of tea for Billy and he finds himself lost inside an hilarious story about his previous job as a goat herder. The story gets downright raunchy as we visit the mating habits of the male goat. You see, it’s the goat pheromones that attract the she-goats. It’s the method of application that makes the story salacious. It just gets ruder and funnier until it’s shut down with the admonition to the tapers that they can roll their tapes back to omit that part. Wouldn’t think of it.

Greetings to the New Brunette (Shirley) sees our protagonist locked in an age old battle between the angry young man and choices that have to be made. Growin’ up ain’t easy, impressing parents even more difficult but there’s nothing like talkin’ about babies to take the romance out of a post-pubescent poke.

Bragg takes the opportunity to lay an obsequious greeting on the city, claiming it’s a ‘home away from home’ for his crew. It’s made somewhat less so by the news he has family here. The next song is dedicated to Uncle Jesse. From 1991’s Don’t Try This at Home we get a childs POV on death. Lovely light little ditty.

Upfield, released in 1996 backed by ‘Thatcherites’, is as close as you’ll ever come to seeing a ‘reborn socialist’. A tug of will between a doubting pagan and some angels. I got no freakin’ idea what this is about. Nice song though, jaunty melody.

A pretty talkative Bragg moves into another ramble, starting with a story about his March trip to SXSW and the laryngitis that struck him as they headed towards Minneapolis. His manager, in an attempt to console him, assures Billy “no one comes to hear you sing.” He got through those dates with the help of his back up band, The Blokes and his hand puppet. Even found himself sans guitar in Chicago, free to express himself through the medium of dance. A failed experiment it seems. This rant falls prey to the ever-present goat jokes and Billy flings the little toy off stage, hoping to excise the demons. It was futile.

He moves into his “Johnny Clash” rap before delivering what can be called Pinball Prison Blues or Folsom Wizard. Roadie is out to switch the guitar over to his ‘Clash’ amp and we get a song in progress with the working title “Old Clash Fan’s Fight Song”. Some fun stuff.

Another talk that champions the democratic success of the new medium, high-speed internet, that gives us more entertainment in swinging cats on YouTube than network television can deliver. Bragg seems to take some pleasure in the fact bands are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on their music videos only to see them pirated in a blurry mpeg. We’ve spent the last couple days watching animal videos. Curse you Billy Bragg!

I’m having a great time and I’ve only heard 1 (one) song I know, To Have and To Have Not. No shit. I mean I like Billy, always did, right from the outset, but I’ve only got so much appetite for thinking. Saw him in 1993 (I think) at the Ontario Place Forum and thoroughly enjoyed that show. I’m back here tonight because I know it’s gonna be great entertainment value for the dollar. Can’t wait for the encores.

The Saturday Boy is another great tune about that time of life few men can leave behind…the foggy years in their teens when they didn’t know what was happenin’ or why. Some great lyrics in here: “’cause she lied to me with her body you see/ I lied to myself about the chances I’d wasted” and “in the end it took me a dictionary/ to find the meaning of unrequited.” Heavy emotions directed at a girl too young to shave her legs.

Billy turns a slam against James Blunt (“our revenge for Lenny Kravitz”) into a promotional piece for his book and a sermon on not becoming cynical. He follows with another new song, I Keep Faith, a testament to his belief that cynicism can be defeated. It’s a kinder, gentler, Billy.

Now we’re back to 1649 for the story of the True Levellers, or the Diggers. Socialists well before their time and the most extreme amongst their kind. A history lesson in song. Still, sad how nobody’s learning anything.

Ontario, Quebec and Me is a little nod of appreciation to this wonderful part of the world we’re lucky enough to live in, and the good times he’s had.

Familiar chords of the second song I know, Waiting for the Great Leap Forward, are welcome but not really necessary. What is unwelcome, and unnecessary, is the artless alterations made to the song. It’s a cheap laugh tossing in Rumsfeld’s name. You’re preaching to the choir here, they can make the connection themselves. It’s good for a giggle but not much more, there’s been plenty of fun all across the comedy spectrum tonight and more still to come. I wouldn’t give those f*cks the pleasure of being inside a work as good as “Leap Forward”. To all the PNACians, get offa my cloud.
Still, I love this song and we do get a number of straight verses, enough to redeem it.

REVISED opinion on Leap Forward. After listening to this again in the car I realize this version was a master stroke. Bragg managed to incorporate a number of jokes from this evenings show as well as some references to his own wealth, his aging and even Canadian Idol. A final coup de grace was the inclusion of “bombed back to the Stone Age”, a news item that only came to light in the days preceeding this concert. He was referencing the Prime Minister of Pakistan relating this threat almost at the same time it was airing on CBS’ 60 Minutes. At the risk of abrogating the ‘fair usage’ copyright rule let me transcribe the lyrics here:

It may have been Camelot for Jack and Jacqueline (John & Jackie Kennedy)
But on the Che Guevara highway filling up with gasoline
Little Donald Rumsfeld spies a rich lady who's crying
Over luxury's disappointment, so he walks over and he's trying
To sympathise with her but he thinks that he should warn her
To be prepared to be bombed back into the Stone Age
(Ya, how’s that touch you? Ya fancy that? Maybe back into the Ice Age even. Who knows.)

In the former Soviet Union the citizens demand
As to why they are still the target of Strategic Air Command?
And they shake their fists in anger and respectfully suggest
We take the money from our missiles and spend it on our hospitals instead.

Mixing Pop and Politics thye ask me what the use is
I offer them my acupuncturists and my masseusses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where my ego is waiting
I'm looking for the New World Order
(You know where Canada is in the New World Order?
Just behind Great Britain right up the asshole of the United States of America)

Jumble sales are organized, all my mates have got fat
Even after all this time you can still swing round a cat
You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the media
While you're waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

Oh, one leap forward, two leaps back
Will YouTube give MTV the sack ?
Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

Well here comes the future and you can't run from it
If you've got a wesite I want to be on it
Can I be your friend? Can I say it with a smiley? Ya

In a perfect world we'd all sing in tune
But this is reality not fucking Canadian Pop Idol
Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards, ya

It's a mighty long way down rock 'n roll
From Top of the Pops to diggin’ a hole
You're Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

So join the struggle while you may
The Revolution is just an ethical haircut away
When you’re waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

Is that some fun, or what?

The acoustic encore is an homage to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, two giants upon whose shoulders Bragg is proud to stand. First Guthrie song is the story of Hans Eisler, German composer who told the HUAC to go fuck themselves. Got deported for it. The song address whether Woody would stand, sit or run. Good campfire tune though. The second Guthrie song is a dark tale of failing farms and little hope, Black Wind Blowing. A dust-bowl song about how funny a man feels when all he knows is hanging by a thread. Ummm, time to lighten up perhaps?

Toilet paper jokes and slide guitars oughta do it. Billy has stolen the melody from Leadbelly’s Bourgeois Blues and come up with another topical song, Bush War Blues. This is more Phil Ochs than Bob Dylan but it’s much preferred to altering cherished lyrics to no advantage.

For the second encore we’re back to electric and back to the first EP. I’d told the wife it was unlikely we’d hear The Milkman of Human Kindness and it was kind of like whistling in the dark…a preemptive strike against disappointment. Something about this simple song that just pulls you in, the sentiment perhaps, the melody for sure and that voice just right for this plaintive wail. What a treat.

Sexuality falls prey to another goat joke, we get the ‘beastiality’ version. Not totally marred though Billy does say “I ruined it didn’t I?” before he finds his way back on track. No matter, this is a smile inducer in any shape or form.

Show closes with an extended audience sing-a-long to A New England. And the audience was very good. I usually rate ‘sing-a-longs’ right next to ‘clapping’ and ‘shouted requests’ on the list of silly things that happen at concerts but it worked well tonight. Billy helped them along with a few guitar queues but they were never shy about taking the song over. We get enough verses from the artist we paid to see, plus a new verse, making this another treat at the end of a superb evenings entertainment. Billy shouts out "We're going to do a verse for Kirsty MacColl!" before injecting the two verses she added to the song on her recording:

"My dreams were full of strange ideas
My mind was set despite your fears
But other things got in the way
I never asked that boy to stay

Once upon a time at home
I sat beside the telephone
Waiting for someone to pull me through
When at last it didn't ring I knew it wasn't you"

Kinda makes a full evening of it. Thank you Billy Bragg, looking forward to the next trip through and whatever incarnation you bring.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bob Segarini and Friends
Cadillac Lounge Toronto ON

Bob Segarini has been called "Canada's Nick Lowe"; the honorariums don't come much higher. In some circles that might mean no more than being the best hockey player in Argentina. In my circles it means the guy is worth a listen.
The comparison comes from the close proximity, and similar successes, of their two seminal records: Bob Segarini’s Gotta Have Pop and Nick Lowe’s Pure Pop for Now People. (Lowe’s album was released as "Jesus of Cool" in the UK/Europe but in America, even in the ‘80’s, that was thought a little too irreverant.) The albums are amazingly similar in that they contain a bunch of 2 minute 30 seconds pop songs that will never leave your head. And speaking of head, the 2:30 pop song is something else that has not been substantially altered or improved since it’s invention.

2006 has been a year of retro music, where I've seen everyone from Alice Cooper to The Buzzcocks to BB King to Charlatans UK, and that’s only the front end of the alphabet. I scour the upcoming listings at the Cadillac Lounge periodically in order to make sure I don’t miss the next Robert Gordon show. Segarini has taken up residence as the Wednesday night house band. Prior commitments, general laziness and a substance abuse problem prevented me from catching the first two weeks but I managed to drag myself, and Cece, downtown this week. Another chance to pay respects to one of the many artists who have made this soundtrack that accompanies our life a little more interesting.

Bucking the trend to head west in the mid to late ‘60’s Segarini came to Toronto from California. He found himself surrounded by some friends and other artists who represented the best of CanRock; members of April Wine and Mashmakhan. (April Wine preceeded Rush in getting some international acclaim; had a big hit with Could Have Been A Lady. Mashmakhan’s flame didn’t burn as long or as strong but they hit the airwaves with the classic tune, As Years Go By AND were on that Festival Express train with the Dead, Joplin and the Band. For much more on the heroes of Sirius Radio 95 When I mentioned I was listening to a copy of a 1979 Much Music show that I’d received in a trade, Segarini relays that the show is being reissued, on DVD. I believe he said Gotta Have Pop is also being put out, or a ‘greatest hits’ type package, and he is embarking on a tour in the Sping of ’07 to support those projects. These Wednesday sets, as long as they last through the fall and winter, are the ‘rehearsals’. They are not playing on the 27th but it looks like every Wednesday in October so far.
Check the calendar at Cadillac Lounge.

Don’t dare miss it!

The bar is a little crowded when we arrive and raucously loud. That will all change before the show as one table was celebrating their new ring tone downloads and the other was too drunk to possibly last another hour. Band members start to arrive and plug in their various instruments and run a rudimentary sound check aided by Valerie Shearman, widow of Buzz Shearman of Moxy, yet another pivotal local band who carved a niche in the local, and extended Canadian, scene. The balance gets a bit skewed when the two ‘party tables’ have left and the 10 band members have set up. Not many left in the audience for this mid-week, unannounced, no cover, freebie. That’s ok, other people ‘getting it’ has never been a big part of the package for me…I mean, I’ve been a Dylan fan for over 30 years now.

Segarini and support vocalist Jay Dunlap are both under the weather tonight. Some type of bronchial infection or something Courtney Love is passing around. Show opens with a disclaimer…or two, since this is still ostensibly rehearsal time. It’s nice of them to let us in to watch. Bob has promised his friend will pick it up for him. Actually, considering the purpose and the price of this evening’s set it shows some respect for the art that they are out here giving what they have to offer. Everybody seems animated, especially Annette, one of a bevy of beauties adorning the stage. The beauties you can tell because they have change and places to put it.

Soon enough we are into a live presentation of … gotta have funk! A little Tom Waits meets George Clinton as the 10 man band warms up with some bluesy tunes, well suited to a gruff voice.

First song out of the gate is … unknown, a blues song with country overtones (“lost all my money, lost my woman, and my dog don’t run no more”), an easy, rambling tune to loosen the vocal chords. One thing’s for sure, they don’t want Mr Hard Time knockin’ round their door. That ain’t a bad way to start the night.

We step back in time (a theme we’ll develop more throughout the evening) for a Wackers song. Teenage Love opens with an extended instrumental solo and faux-applause from the audience at the break. The Wackers were Segarini’s third band, played together from 1970-1973 but Bob references them a lot. Everybody’s got that place where the needle sticks.

Ahhh, now we’re into a little ‘chuck-berry-cum-t-rex’ stuff in Rock N Roll Circus as Bob remembers his time with Roxy (1968-1970). This could have been done by Lighthouse too, if they had chicks. Did they have chicks? It was hard to tell with all that hair.

Bring it on, dude! Gotta Have Pop. If it’s ever been said better, it hasn’t been said more succinctly. Now the voice is having a little trouble but the heart is committed. “I remember when I was a boy….”, “none of it seems to make too much sense, it’s a synthesized mess!” “I love the Beatles up to Sgt. Pepper…” (don’t believe that), “I gotta have pop!, don’t let it stop!” If there’s anything simpler than a pop song, there’s nothing more beautiful than that simplicity.
Bob’s talking from the stage now and he’s a salty bastard. We get a little bit of everything from him, ranging from almost telling the couple at the back to ‘get a room’, to dedications. Some stuff about the travails of being sick that I’d best not relate. Bit of a stand-up comic hidden inside this DJ/song writer. I’d tell him to stick with the day job but I can’t tell what that is. A Renaissance man for the Boomer Generation.

Another Wackers tune in Hey Lawdy Lawdy before Bob breaks to introduce half the band members and hand out a printout with the other half to save on time. The first of many guest appearances and friends in the guise of Jade Dunlop (some people call her ‘Pie’ but we’re nowhere near that familiar). She drops a little Ronettes on us in the form of Be My Baby. Jade’s struggling with the same cold and I got no idea how that happened. Didn’t hurt her much on this song, sounded just right from where I was sitting.

Local RnB artist Max Brand had walked into the club a few minutes before and Bob invites him up for a couple songs. Quite the treat, I mean this stuff is unrehearsed but that’s a big part of the ‘fun factor’. He rips off a cover of Route 66 and picks the Jack Scott classic (recently performed at this very spot by Robert Gordon), The Way I Walk. The band huddles for a quick lesson in chords and anchored by veteran Segarini guitarist, Peter Kashur, they pull off a decent version.

Bob’s back chattin’ and drops another unfamiliar song that might have been called I Want You To Stay before the band breaks for a drink and breath of fresh air, or joint, I didn’t follow them.

Set 2 opens with more talk from the very accessible Bob Segarini before he launches into Money In the Pocket from 1981’s Vox Populi. Bob relinquishes the stage once again, this time to the three diva’s. We open their mini-set with the insipid Doobie Brothers song, Listen to the Music. That’s as bad as it gets all night though as Doc Ingles comes out from behind the keyboard to deliver a raucous version of Suite’s Ballroom Blitz. Dedicated to ‘yours truly’ by Peter Kashur. How’d they know Jack White’s my second favorite performer? Staying with the ‘screamo themeo’ the girls are back to deliver a blistering rendition of AC/DC’s All Night Long, sans the shorts but I don’t doubt their word.

Still more friends in the house. Valerie Shearman, who’s been helping with the sound, takes the stage for a mini-set consisting of the great House of the Rising Sun, Leaving On A Jet Plane (reminds me of acid, strobe lights and Galt Ave, don’t ask) and some raunch, assisted by the girls, in Mustang Sally. Oh ya, ride. We continue to highlight the girls as Yvonne does Mick…well, sorta, she covers Beast of Burden and I’m beginning to wonder if these girls are sending a message. The always smiling Annette closes this segment with Hot Child In the City, not doing anything to get my mind off the raunch.

Segarini’s back with another Gotta Have Pop staple in the ‘emo-before-it’s-time’, I Don’t Want To Lose You, followed by a cover of the Doors, People Are Strange.
We’re getting heavy on the classic album stuff now, which is great. Bob rolls out I’m Afraid of the Ocean, a fun little ditty about international air travel in the times when you’re only concern was wondering why the pilot was walking by wearing a parachute. Good songs don’t need heavy themes. Some nimble word play in this song.
Prom song #1, Don’t Believe A Word I Say. A gut-busting look at faking sincerity. More Grade A writing, excellent pacing and a cautionary tale for all our daughters. This closes the set and what I thought would be a quick 1 and a half set is turning into a marathon and I’m wishing it wouldn’t end, just keep on jammin’.

Valerie Shearman is back to open the third set with a couple jazzy numbers in What A Wonderful World and a cover of Patsy Cline’s Crazy. She’s invited another guest onto the stage and Sebastian Agnello tries out a couple new songs, Me & God followed by Quasi Love Song. This has shaped up to be quite a walk down memory lane for aficiando’s of Toronto’s music scene…circa 1965-1985 anyway.

Bob’s back with an unrecognizable country tune then into Gotta Have Pop for When the Lights are out before he closes with Goodbye LA and the closest we’re going to get to anthemic tonight, Juvenile Delinquent.

You’d be hard-pressed to get more bang for the buck than wandering into the Cadillac Lounge any Wednesday night in October to catch this band.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Andy Warhol at the AGO
Stars, Deaths and
Disasters, 1962-64

as a disclaimer here i really know little about 'art'.
i mean i visit museums when i'm on the road but i really don't have the patience for it. buildings and dead people i do much better.

pretty decent exhibit. limited by space (low ceilings) we didn't get everything that has been presented in this show as it travels around. but what was there was worth the hour and change it took to see. i'm pretty sure the art world has a language all it's own to describe these things. i'm not familiar with the dialect but i'll give it a try.

here's a zip file containing jpegs of the program.

or cut and paste this http://www.sendspace.com/file/wvirw8 as Blogger seems a little wonky.

lots of parallels to dylan, as an artist, even if he's in a somewhat different genre. while both have 'created' what has become identifiable as 'their art', the works in exhibit here were constantly referred to as 'found art', not unlike a good deal of Bob's catalogue.

the vast majority of the pieces were silk-screens created from either studio photo's, news photo's or simply, personal photo's. even the movies were just captures, not productions. seems like a mirror.

the show starts with a 5 minute loop of Empire, an 8 hour movie of the Empire State building. just the Empire State building. not the Empire State building being happy. or the Empire State building being sad. or, and this would be cool, the Empire State building being stoic.
just the Empire State building being. have no idea why they felt the need to make a 5 minute loop in place of just running the film.

then the wonderful Elizabeth Taylor, captured on silk-screen in various tones. a studio picture from National Velvet. she was a pretty one.

a captivating Robert Maplethorpe portrait of Andy rounds out the first three displays.

these three pieces we get even before we enter the exhibit proper. we've picked up the annoying cell phones we have to carry from display to display but haven't turned our tickets in yet.

in front of the next exhibit I spent a couple minutes thinking Troy Donahues real last name was diptych. the Troy Diptych, 1962, precedes the Elizabeth Taylor silk-screen by a year. David Cronenburg is supplying the narrative for this exhibition and he thinks Andy found Troy, kinda cute. much is made of the different shades of the same silk-screened photo, showing the possible range of emotion present in all of us...from light and sunny to dark and gloomy. some photo's, from Troy's studio, stolen by Andy, are almost obliterated by the light, others by the dark. we have programs that fix that now.

the first moving picture is 58 minutes of the Couch at the Factory. exhibitionists are welcomed. apparently this camera sat in front of the couch and all were invited to turn it on and do as they wish. mostly it was explicit film of young males coupling while someone, or someones, moved in an out of frame doing something or nothing. it's dated 1964 and i gotta believe the people we've come to know out of the Warhol community, didn't spend too many minutes on this couch. the film was filled with anonymous characters.

can't remember what "red disaster" was about. the first 'disaster' pic, having already witnessed supernova's in Troy Donahue and stars in Elizabeth Taylor. do remember that the descriptive narrative got it wrong...the red panel is on the left, not on the right. the right panel contained the Electric Chair...that was it. with the ironic "silence" sign above the door. that was a cool merging of images. after the juice all there will be is silence.

then we start to get into the repetitive and redundant part of Warhol's art. Silver Liz as Cleopatra, followed by Blue Liz as Cleopatra. again, another studio photo, replicated in multiple silk-screen frames. all the diptych's (which i've learned is not Troy's last name) have multiple panels, simulating 'frames' in a movie, none of them the same...simulating frames in a movie. all with different lighting...simulating frames in a movie. i had to stand there and listen to the description for 4 minutes or else i would have run by them quickly so they could simulate frames in a movie.

next exhibit consisted of the 'screen tests'. Dennis Hopper is doing some of the narrative here, talking about Andy turning the camera on, with about 3 1/2 minutes of film in it, and leaving the room. your instructions were to not move, not emote, not blink. just present your face. i watched 4 minutes of what I thought was Sam Waterston, though he's not listed as the one of the featured screen plays. they had too many options to wait around for Bob's.

next, the Elvis silkscreens, Elvis I in colour, Elvis II in black and white. photo is taken from the studio material for the movie Flaming Star. much is made on the narrative about the fading silkscreens, as you move from left to right, representing the fading of one's life (the reference to the song/movie Flaming Star) and of Elvis' fame. or, when you use a stamp 4 times, you run out of ink.

we double up on Sleep. which is usually a great concept. on the one side we have 21 minutes of the 5 hour movie, some hairy chested gent breathing. in case we missed anything, we have a still picture to caputre the moment.

have we done death yet? well we have if you consider most of the famous subjects have passed on, including the artist. but now it's presented in a more disturbing manner in Foot and Tire. a newspaper photo, another silk-screen diptych. horrifying if you consider the context. a simple boot underneath a pair of tractor-trailer tires. i don't want my fifteen minutes on the front of a newspaper, thanks.

Warhol's a bit of a fetishist. if he had a boner for anyone besides Liz it was probably Jackie. thing is, once you've done 16 Jackies (1964) what was the purpose behind 9 Jackies, later in the same year? is that like a 'dub' or a remix? apparently the art here is found in immortalizing the widow instead of the victim. much like Liz she is bigger than real life and the images are sobering.

Miriam Davidson was commissioned to take a picture of herself, dressed like Jackie, in a photobooth. the resulting silk-screens take the homage in the previous set of photo's from touching to eerie.

next moving picture is Haircut #1. the accompanying narrative, some coiffeur talking about cutting Andy's wigs into different contemporary styles, is more interesting than the 27 minutes of falling hair. actually, 27 minutes of falling hair may have been better, we just got a long shot of clipping, evocative of that hillbilly Quest thing Bob did.

lots more Jackie pics, then we're on to more anonymous dead people. Five Deaths on Orange (and the follow up sets, Five Deaths on Turqouise, Five Deaths on Yellow, and the minimalist, Five Deaths), was another newspaper photo transferred to silk screen. the car is overturned after an horrific crash. i see only 4 people and two of them look like they are still moving.

the next segment is three pieces together, two movies with a still in between. the still, Disaster #6, is another, well actually the same, electric chair, in a different colour. the movie on the left is the 41 minute capture of Blowjob. it's a close shot of a male's face on the receiving end of a blowjob. we don't see the person performing. it's an interesting idea all by itself....but 41 minutes?!??!?!?!?! c'mon, who are we kidding?

the film on the right is also an interesting idea. most movies spend an hour and a half leading up to "The Kiss". this movie is 54 minutes of different couples kissing. fuck all that set up stuff. let's get to the emotion.

1947 White (sometimes called Suicide or Fallen Body) was maybe the most striking off all the diptych's. a beautiful, curvaceous, babe of a woman has jumped off the Empire State building and landed, totally unspoiled or unmarked, face up, on the hood of a limousine.
her clothes, impeccable. her pose, senuous. the curves of her body outlined and accentuated
by the crumpled curves of the steel roof of the car, her deathbed. some creepy even liking this work, but it's easy to look at.

this is juxtaposed by another set of silkscreens illuminating the totally capricous nature of death. photo's of two woman who died of food poisoning. the product, A&P canned Tuna, the caption "did a leak kill them?" nobody we know, nobody we should care about. unless we eat tuna. the prominence of this canned food product is a little smile inducing as it's so unlike the infamous Campbell's soup picture.

Saturday Disaster is another horrific car crash we get to peek in on. one body sent through the torn roof of the car, hanging over the metal frame. the other, bloodied and lying dead on the road, half inside-half outside the car. i hate driving.

Race Riot consists of a series of familiar pictures of police dogs chasing blacks. i guess something had to be said. the images are way too familiar to be shocking.

a couple semi-anonymous men appear in Most Wanted Men No. 2 and No. 6. #2 looks like he was arrested before Congress clarified the rules. #6 didn't have a mark on him.

the audio portion of our tour does not include anything about the last two pieces. a strange oversight. next to 1947 White the most striking silk screen was White Burning Car III. an overturned car, severely crashed, in flames. on the telephone pole, a young male, either hung there, or impaled on the telephone repair man steel foot studs.

(after having done a little research I came across this description of the exhibit. it explains the last picture and I concur with the opinion expressed.)
"Two paintings exclusive to this show embody this focus (on death): White Burning Car III (1963), depicting a man impaled on a telegraph pole, and 1947-White (1963), showing a woman who jumped from the top of the Empire State Building embedded in the roof of a limousine. "

at the end, a self portrait.

just a quick, interesting, glimpse into a complex personality.
perhaps more a personality than an artist.
the art is in convincing others.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Virgin Festival
Day 2 Mumblings

A little worse for wear, very stiff but determined to see The Raconteurs, I head back to the Islands solo today. Michael's coming down a little later
and we've been left with a spare ticket. I try to sell it to a couple scalpers for face value...they don't go for it. Spend 15 minutes trying to pass
it on for free to some kids. Approach a couple groups to see if they have a friend they can phone who'd like to use the ticket. They just looked at me
strange. Must be an age thing. Or a brains thing. At the very least you'd think they'd be astute enough to take the ticket and sell it to the scalpers
themselves. In the end I refused the $20 offer and pocketed the ticket as insurance against being caught taping in the light of day.

Got the first available ferry over and was sipping a Bacardi and cola in the early afternoon sun. No rush today as i'm not doing any capture until the
fourth band comes onstage. The first set just finished, I'm out on the picnic benches looking at the skyline, excpecting Jose Feliciano next. Er, wait,
that was Lupe Fiasco that was supposed to be in the second slot. Instead DJ Champion is onstage. This doesn't entice me to come in any closer and I'm
not overly concerned, thinking there was just some traffic difficulty getting on the Island. About 5 minutes before the next act is due the screen flashes
that it will be Thrice. That's not good news. Still no announcement about WHY the changing order of appearance. I call a couple people I know who were
planning on seeing Thrice (and Wolfmother to follow) so they could hurry it up. Then I put back my drink and take up a spot near the left stacks.

Thrice came across sounding like a less intense alexisonfire. Not by much, just by a little.

WISTA rating: No.

Wolfmother - if Jack White has stolen all that's good out of Led Zeppelin, then these guys are the evil twin. Lead singer has that Robert Plant voice
thing going and the band seems to enjoy an excessive solo or ten. Especially the guy on the keyboard. First off, the keyboard is not a real rock n roll
instrument unless you play it with your heels and elbows and your name is Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. Tilting the board, so it's at risk of tipping,
and twirling the reverb dials as you straffe the keys, is not music. It's a balancing act. What you're balancing is my interest in seeing new bands
against my tolerance for self-indulgence.

WISTA rating: I wouldn't run fast to avoid the band (of course I probably couldn't run fast to avoid a fire) but they'd have to be on a bill with someone
else i was looking to hear and playing directly before them.

Over to the Future Shop stage for what turns out to be the low-light of the entire weekend. The bass player from DeathFromAbove 79 has traded in the
stage for the studio. In concert with a DJ friend he's now doing an act called MSTRKRFT. This is club music, for club lovers only. I had an inkling but
Buck 65 didn't have a band, he used canned music and effects, and he was good. Of course, he had WORDS. The set got off to a terrible technical start.
First, as with the main stage, the set times have been altered, for reasons unknown and still unannounced. This is working out to my advantage as this one
has been moved FORWARD twenty minutes, meaning I'll have a little extra time to get back and comfortable for the Raconteurs. So after 20 minutes of setting
up the stage the MSTRKRFT guy comes out to find he's missing not one, but two, turntables.
"What do you do?" "I'm a DJ, I play records." "On what?" "D!oh." By the time they were located and plugged in we were at about 6:30 pm. That's when it
went downhill fast. I lasted 40 minutes before I wandered off, the incessant drone fading in the distance. It wasn't anywhere near 4:20 but it was 420 time.
I'd suggest the fans of this music lay off the "E" and switch to the chronic as well. Having said all that, who was there dancing up a storm with at least
7 girls? Buck 65! Aparently girls like guys who can dance and that may be the underlying secret.

WISTA rating: Only at the point of a gun.

It's been a great day for a concert and these Islands are an excellent location. Lot's of shade cover and rain cover though we've only needed a bit of both.
One last walk past the many booths giving away samples and hawking their wares. One more stroll along the waterfront as the lights of the city start to
do their dance, then back to the madding crowd to find a spot for the Raconteurs. That didn't look too promising as the Strokes had packed the main stage
to capacity. Just as quickly though, people started leaving at the end of the set and ample room opened up so I could make my way to within 25' of the
stage, directly in front of the right speaker banks.

Raconteurs played what is threatening to become a pretty static set. This is the first show of their fall tour, a one-off really as they launch in the
Southern US this week. Perhaps they have something in store for that tour. Highlights were Bang Bang, always. Blue Veins, from the intro to the explosion.
The extended Bane Rendition/Store Bought Bones and a nice extra verse thrown into Brendan's Yellow Moon. Jack was face-melting good when on guitar and
playful when not. Patrick Keeler I could listen to even if the band wasn't there.

One thing Jack still has to work on is his stage patter. Back in Cleveland he and Brendan engaged in a little 'Southern California' stuff. Then Jack questioned whether CA or Florida was the Sunshine State. They picked the wrong one.
Tonight Jack was mumbling about some border difficulties, and I paraphrase here: "Canada is harder to get into than East Germany!" ummm, Jack, getting into East Germany has never been tested...most people had difficulty getting out. Alive anyway. Which I think was the purpose of your joke. But that's ok. Those little call-outs mean nothing. They are there for the candy-cane kids and the cheap cheer you get when people hear their hometown mentioned through the PA system.

WISTA rating: 4 more times this year!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Virgin Festival
Day 1 Reviews

Day 1

Overcast early in the morning, then pissing rain just as we get ready to leave home. It's gonna be a hit-and-miss day for the weather. No umbrellas. Great.

We embark on the short ferry ride to Center Island pretty close to our noon-time target. First on the agenda...find a pamphlet with all the bands and all the start times. Can't see everybody so there's choices to be made. No telling who didn't make it over the border last night. Not counting Massive Attack.

As fate would have it...no, it's got nothing to do with fate and everything to do with my OCD regarding time, we arrive before gates. They are well organized and within 20 minutes we've cleared a cursory bag check and are on our way across the wide, muddy, waters. 7 and a half minutes later, we arrive.

The sun came out as we were making our trek across Lake Ontario and the grounds, though damp, were not soaked. We have been spared a mud-fest. They are a little behind on the main stage getting set up due to the earlier downpour. Second on the agenda is finding a booth to purhcase food and drink tickets. There's a line up for everything here. One to get money. One to get tickets. One to get food. One to get drinks. One to enter contests for various Virgin products. One for the bathroom.

Michael and I find ourselves at the only spot without a line-up, in front of the main stage to see the opening act, ohbijou. Now that's the best thing about this
group, it's name. We've already peaked and the music hasn't started. 'ohbijou', went whispered softly, is the pet-name my French-Canadian mother used when trying to soothe her ill, or despondent, children. It translates loosely as 'oh, my little jewel'. The band's music is similar. Soothing. Calming. Nap inducing.

Yet there they stand on this huge stage, which they fill out pretty well with their 8 or nine bodies, but not so well with their chamber music catalogue. These guys, and girls, they are primarily a girl-band, belong in a club like Top O' The Senator, or The Drake, or Hugh's Room, some kind of yuppie enclave where people like to have a soundtrack to accompany their merger-and-acquisitions foreplay talk.

Yet there they stand, valiantly working their way through a set of songs that would have given James Taylor a boner. A band out of time. Decent enough artists, if not nipple-hardening in the excitement column. Lead singer admits to being nervous and excited and nervous. Biggest stage they'd ever played on. My guess is at around 153 people, biggest audience too.

WISTA rating: (would i see them again rating) I may be there if they play my funeral. They'll have to learn some Dylan though.

I decide to tape the second band, solely on the fact I heard somebody mention interest in their set while we were coming over on the ferry. Another large band with strange tools. What's with the violins, trumpets, flutes and african stringed instruments everyone has to play these days? Who took the rock out of "and roll"?

The set gets off to a less than stellar start when the VFest-cryer, who always goes on-and-on about SIR f*cking Richard Branson and all the Virgin stuff you can buy before each band, shows that he cares more about your pocket than getting it right by introducing the band as "the mean spiders!" They are more than that doofus, they are mean RED spiders . I think the 'red' comes from the hair colour of the lead songstress. The 'mean' comes from the guy on the boat who was talking this set up. The 'spiders' comes from the creepy-crawly feeling you get that makes your feet want to wander. Pretty sure it's a Muddy Waters song too. Another very EMOtive band. Girl-emo though, it's not as stomach turning, doesn't come across as a whine, more like a plea. Actually they call it "dream-rock" and that juxtaposition should explain the difficulty this band had in raising pulses. Too soft to get a concert of this size, stature and duration off the ground.
I'm two hours into standing still and soon my feet will grow roots. They did have one song of note, it could have been a cover, or it could have been an homage
to Judy Collins. Contained the refrain: "trains and birds and planes took you away from me," pretty well sung to the tune of Both Sides Now.

WISTA rating: Not on purpose.

ill Scarlett takes to the stage with their combination sound of pop/punk/dub/ska - light-hearted fare. Good for a start in the bright light of day. The volume has been increased, the band is excited and some of this starts to rub off on the crowd, now awakening and growing. Think of these guys as 'Rancid-lite'. They further spark up interest by throwing out packages of zig zag papers for the assembled multitude. The goal, I thougt, is to get everyone to light up during their hit song, Police State. I understand the politics but the very fact you can pull a stunt like this pretty well proves we don't live in a police state. In fact, the Island is a great place for a concert because there's plenty of room to roam. There arepicnic benches set up facing out into the lake or back towards the Toronto skyline, yet well away from the stages, where you can quietly and privately indulge. My days of waving a red flag in the face of 'the man' are well past me. Turns out it was for the set closer, Mary Jane. Silly me, stuck in the '60's. An excellent set that will stand up as one of the best "small act sets" of the entire weekend.

WISTA rating: For sure. They should be good and mature by next spring.

Time to head over to the "Future Shop" stage, everything is sponsored here. Others that pitched in with money and 80' advertising banners were, NOKIA, Bell and the Hemp Wagon. While taking a piss I was reading an add for 'concert colostomy bags' on the wall.
Buck 65 - i'm waiting for this guy to team up with Fi'ty Cent for the $2.15 Tour. Straight out of Halifax, yo, influences range from Woody Guthrie to CCR to KISS to NWA. Been at it about 15 years, had an early release on Sloan's murderrecords before signing with Warner. Almost jumped the shark in an interview where he claimed to hate hip-hop and the hip-hop culture. Bad career move when your fanbase consists of fans who love hiphop. He doesn't deny sayin' it, he just wishes he could take it back. Who hasn't been there, eh? There is plenty of 'hop' to the music and Buck65 is very 'hip', but he's more like Beck than eminem.

Anybody who lists Bob Dylan's Masters of War as the greatest song he's ever seen performed live can't be all bad. Sparse stage setup. He has a drummer hidden behind a curtain and is using canned music and scratch-tables for his band. Normally that would put me off but there's something so 'roots' about this guys demeanor, his stage persona and his set that I'm instantly enthralled by his delivery and not concerned at all about the lack of acoutrements. A pleasant change from the two ensembles we'd seen on the other stage.

Very good stage presence, he regales us with the story of the sinking barge the artists were taking over to the Island. Upset him no end, almost dying in the cold dark waters of Lake Ontario. You know you're stretching your karma alottment when you need thrash-metal rockers Starsailor to be around to save your ass.

Smart music for people who like to think. And dance. Which, admitedly might narrow his target audience somewhat.

WISTA rating:As soon as I can!

We return to the mainstage, where they are highlighting bands that have a large number of personnel. On-stage now are The Hidden Camera's. Not too well hidden.
I can see about 10 of them. The set, led by the construction guy from Village People, closes and soon roadies are dissembling yet another experience.

The next band is no different than the previous, as a large contingency, bracketed by two girls on keyboards (the inside part looks like a rock band) takes to the stage to impress us with how impressed they are of themselves.

The Dears - the cream of Montreal's sub-pop crop. They spent the better part of 2002 bogged down by their sense of self-importance. They dropped members, spent over a year doing a record that sucked and had to go back to the mixing board to salvage something while they heard the rushing sound of their 15 minutes going down the drain. Having survived that scare it'll be interesting to see if anybody's listening.
Some French people next to me were happy to be here. For me they brought nothing to the stage that 10,000 other bands don't already do. Nothing unique about either the sound or the act. Proficient? Yup. Trying hard? I think so but there girls didn't seem near as engaged as the lead singer.

WISTA rating: Only if they are an unannounced opener will that happen.

It's about this time i realize I'm going to pay dearly for not having taken a seat yet today. My 50 year old hips are starting to burn. I had been planning on staying
here to capture the Muse set but it was scheduled to end at the same time Eagles of Death Metal were taking the stage at the other location. The distance isn't far, it takes only 5 minutes to go from one stage to another...or it did 5 hours ago. Now I need a rest-break a third of the way. I pass on an opportunity to hook up with some 'Toronto tapers' until tomorrow, where I'll be sitting in a bar near the main stage all day and meander over to the Future Shop stage for the last two acts of the day, Eagles of Death Metal and local heroes, alexisonfire.

In order to catch those acts I've chosen to pass on the smash hit band of the summer, Gnarles Barkley and the Flaming Lips, argueably the biggest band booked
into this festival. I've only got so much capacity for taking interest in new bands. Gnarles is definitely a 'flash-in-the-pan' kind of band. They've got a funky
sound, a ton of energy and a monster hit in 'Crazy'. Ride that wave as long as you can boys. The Flaming Lips deserve a little more respect, I guess. They are a
fully-developed headlining act, with all the flare and chutzpah you need to command the main stage. They've been on the radio here for the better part of the
last 5 years but none of their material has jumped out at me and said..."you gotta find out who that is!" That's usually how I come to like new bands, unconsciously.
I hear one song...turn up the music. A month later I hear another and wonder who it is. Then I hear a third and find out the same band did them all...they might
be worth checking out. That's how I came to like Offspring, Green Day, The White Stripes and countless others. Almost invariably when I get 'told' about a band,
either by friends or through media hype, I don't have the same kind of attraction. Added to the equation is the fact they are running behind schedule and seeing
that act would mean leaving the island sometime around 1 am. I will take a pass for today and next time i get the urge to go see The Dears, I'll check out where
the Flaming Lips are instead and make a night of it. On another note: if those bands are all they are made out to be why are there not one, but two acts following them at the Baltimore version of VFest?

At the small stage I catch the closing minutes of Starsailors 'thrash-rock' set.
The volume is through the freakin' roof. At one point the 'sound police' called
the mixer-guy down to request the volume be dropped. They were measuring the decibel levels, recording them and doing their best to keep it civil. They have a problem with the rich people who live on the Toronto Islands. Island lands are leased to a few well-placed families. Quite the nice place to live, just across the pond from the lovely Toronto skyline. Does that make them happy? No. They stay active making sure we don't build a land bridge to the largest public park in the city because it would increase the traffic flow and disrupt their little piece of tax-payer subsidized heaven. The rest of their time they spend suing the Docks, a huge nightclub/concert complex that sits on the mainland directly across from their homes. They've managed to get the liqour license suspended just this past summer, which will surely end in the closure of those venues, due to 'noise violations'.
And now we're in their backyards. Didn't think they'd take to that.

With the noise suitably dampened but spirits still high, Eagles of Death Metal take to the stage promising to deliver some rock n roll. What i know of this group
is tangenital at best. I believe their drummer toured with Peaches in front on NIN this summer. That band, Peaches, also had a key-tar player from Le Tigre, who I'd seen in Amsterdam back in the fall of '03. Still sounds like a thrash-rock band, not so much a fem-lib-left band. They didn't have much to remind you of The Eagles in their set. Maybe the Joe Walsh version of The Eagles. They seemed more like a cross between Sha-Na-Na and Metallica. They rocked. They rolled. They called the audience out repeatedly. Also delivered a decent cover of Brown Sugar. Like Buck 65 they had a harrowing tale to tell about almost being drowned in the SeaKing that transported them to the island. I'm beginning to hope the Raconteurs have spent some time at the local pool.

WISTA rating: If they were to open a show I was attending I'd definitely catch their set.

My son has been following the next band since the days they could not sell out the small Opera House venue in Toronto. They've found themselves a little niche on the alternative scene here. Think of an agitized Trent Reznor and you got the lead singer. A little melody buried in their songs but you have to search for it. With alexisonfire I anticipate a higher volume of more thrash-rock. Call it 'srceam-O'. Popular band on our alternative radio station their latest release was a #1 record in Canada upon release, just bumped from that spot by Bob Dylan's new offering, Modern Times. That's a different neighborhood than a half-filled basement. And that's what we got, scream-O extreme-O. Mike seemed to enjoy the set and if you can measure a band's worth by the fun their hardcore fans have at a concert, then these guys are big. They do have to work on their stage patter though. Find a way to be funny without denegrating something, or someone, else. It was mostly the rather rotund lead guitar player who took time to note the two things he hates most is: "white guys with dreadlocks and beach balls at a rock concert." Some people like beach-balls, there were hundreds floating around emblazooned with the Virgin label, I even picked one up as a memento. The next couple times he thought to fill some dead air with more dead air he was poking fun at French people and gay people. Now I'm pretty sure that gay, French, beach volleyball players with dreadlocks are not part of the demographic of their fanbase, but still, why alienate anybody? Unfortunately we miss their encore (who the f*ck does an encore at a festival?) while scurrying to beat the masses to the ferry. Not too disconcerting because you don't want to be late for this, the last of many lines for the evening, because it's one thing to bring 25,000 people THIS was over the course of 12 hours...quite another to move them THAT way when they all show up at once.

WISTA rating: Not unless their development takes them towards the likes of NIN.

Great end to a great day. Tomorrow it's all the headliners, most notably, The Raconteurs!