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 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.