Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's Always Something...Else
Gilda's Club Fundraiser
The Drake Hotel
Toronto ON

On behalf of Gilda's Club, the Toronto chapter. This is an organization, spread throughout North America, that provides assistance to those living with cancer, in honour of Gilda Radner.

With a cast of millions!

Just happened upon this event while stalking new favourite artist, Buck 65.
A Tuesday night show in Park(ing hell)dale wasn't enough to keep us away.
The added cost of dinner to ensure a place wasn't enough to keep us away.
15 other acts, including comics and dj's, wasn't enough to keep us away.
Hell, even having Ron Sexsmith on the bill wasn't enough to keep us away.
You can't get enough Buck.

Of course, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into at this venue. A call to the Hotel didn't clarify matters as I was seeking out the order of appearance. I was told things would be happening "all over the building." Check me if I'm wrong but that doesn't seem to be conducive to actually enjoying anything. In the end I decided they'd have the performing artists and comics in the 8-11 pm slot and the listed dj's in the 11-2am slot...which means we should be done at 11:02 pm.
Turns out it was a little more complex than that, even. Comics were in the upperloft and the best of the bunch was Sean Cullen, so there was no enticing me to climb the stairs. Both Dala and Most Serene Republic were playing in one of the two main floor lounges but they were bracketed around a couple hours of 'workshops' with various artists, and we didn't come out tonight to listen to people practice. So we found ourselves in The Underground with some live music.

The night opens with the solo acoustic stylings of Pat Robitaille. A folk-singer with a little edge. Most of it in his interesting guitar play. His current single, The Summer of Love, was his most notable song. I do think he named 1969 though, and if I'm not mistaken (and I could be, because I was around then), I thought the summer of love was 1967. By 1969 the reactionaries had already taken hold. Woodstock and Altamont were the dying throes of the counter-culture...not it's heyday.

Julie Crochetiere , or Julie C as her friends and the linguistically challenged call her, has the trappings of a sultry, bluesy, songstress/temptress. At least that's her goal. What she really has is a band made up of Chess Club graduates, backing the best-sounding cheerleader at Our Lady of Cursed Maladies High. Her voice is more than decent, if a little canned. Her songs are as good as Ron Sexsmiths. And she's cute as a button. All that's missing is any hint of authenticity. Most memorable song...well, that's where you got me.

Set List
Julie Crochetiere

t01 Hillside
t02 The Only Thing I Know For Sure
t03 Maybe We'll Meet Again
t04 A Better Place
t05 talk
t06 Rich Girl
t07 You Got A Hold Of My Soul
t08 Shine

Sample: Rich Girl

We're stuck in the basement here because to leave would be to relinquish the terrific seats we have a mere 5 meters from the booming PA system. While there's lots of activity (ostensibly) in the other three performing rooms we are spending a third of our time watching acts unravel cables and bag drum sets. A little more organization could have resulted in one less room with the comics doing their bits in between sets.

The Dunes look interesting as they take the stage. A bunch of youngun's that seem to be aiming for an audience that doesn't miss Cole Porter. Pretty well straight-ahead power-pop with lots of guitar; a breath of fresh air in The Underground.
It's not easy playing to a dead room. Most everyone is hanging a good 30 feet away from the stage, near the back of this small venue, standing around tables. Cece and I are on the wall, close to the stage and PA and it wasn't until Sexsmith's set that anyone stood between us and the stage. Julie C's set suffered from the same distancing of the audience. The Dunes just punch harder and louder and go for the end. After their set lead-singer Kevin Pullen, while side-stage packing his gear, commented to Cece he saw her moving her foot. It was a good-natured poke at our reticent nature and a shy thank-you for being interested, amongst a crowd a little less so. Good job by this band, they've got a set that demands attention...soon it may command it.

Set List
The Dunes

t09 Lost (?)
t10 talk
t11 Shock You
t12 Let It Go (?)
t13 talk
t14 No One Knows(?)
t15 drum solo
t16 World Needs A Change (?)

Sample World Needs A Change

Buck 65

I've gone on about Buck on a couple occasions. Check out these other blog reviews for past dates and more detail:
Annotated 1957 (incomplete)
VFest 2006
2008 Music Hall show

Tonight he's running solo. Just Buck and the laptop. We get a short 20 minute set but it made the whole night out worthwhile. Same disinterest from the audience, until he ratcheted up the volume with the Dang remix. We got reworked versions of all the songs, excepting the unreleased Break Chains. Enjoyed them all. He didn't have much time to 'wow' the crowd but, as always, he's paying attention to the art and he painted a different picture tonight. That's why I try not to miss him.

Set List
Buck 65

t01 Indestructible Sam
t02 talk
t03 Way Back When
t04 Dang (remixed)
t05 Kennedy Killed the Hat
t06 Break Chains
t07 Bandits

Sample Dang (remixed)

Who let the Pillsbury Doughboy in? Ron Sexsmith is doing some live rehearsals of songs on his upcoming album Exit Strategy Of the Soul. He's always been a bit of a cherub but he's moved on to portly now, and his stage-patter shows he's aware. I've got to admit I've never quite got Ron Sexsmith, in much the same way I've never quite got Barry Manilow. This is the third time I've seen him...and never on purpose. He was an unannounced opener for John Prine back in '05. He was a 3 song guest performer at a Nick Lowe concert in '07. Tonight he's headlining a show I attended for 20 minutes of Buck 65.

Set List
Ron Sexsmith

* denotes from upcoming album

t08 Never Give Up On You
t09 *This Is How I Know
t10 *One Last Round
t11 Gold In Them Hills
t12 *Brandy Alexander (Sexsmith/Leslie Feist)
t13 talk
t14 Former Glory (w/ Sean Cullen)
t15 *Brighter Still (?)
t16 Listen
t17 *Thoughts and Prayers
t18 Lebanon, Tennessee

Sample Brandy Alexander

And here's an afterthought, you can make of it what you will. Every artist tonight made a "call out" to the artists following them during the evening. Robitaille, Julie C and Buck 65 all mentioned Ron Sexsmith's set with different degrees of enthusiasm. The Dunes made small talk about being big fans of Buck 65. Ron, on the other hand, was not so aware. Even though he was being followed by local hip-hop icon k-OS, he just mumbled something about wondering/thinking that someone else was coming up...maybe, maybe not. We opted out of k-OS's set, due mostly to morning appointments, but I'm sure he succeeded in waking everyone up for the duration.

On a final note...nice job by The Drake . Dinner was actually very reasonably priced, at a mere $20.00. They had a special 'event menu', for the Gilda Club benefit. I'm sure everything was at a reduced price but they didn't chintz on the quality. The meal begins with a cocktail...some lemon based concoction, tart but tasty. The appetizer is a pea soup with a dollop of cream...a little cold though (bg). We passed on the salmon dish and had the best pasta dish I've ever tasted at a restaurant. Nice light scone and creme desert to end the evening. Many thanks to them for being there hosting these types of informal, interesting and innovative nights of entertainment.

torrent running at dime

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Billy Bragg
with CR Avery opening
Sirius Satellite Radio Stage
Harbourfront Toronto ON

Billy Bragg was back in town for his almost yearly visit...he seldom misses Toronto and for that I'm grateful. He's touring his recently released album Mr. Love and Justice. He played I Keep Faith and Farm Boy when he was last through here in the fall of '06...tonight we got a little more of the record.

Billy's an easy act to see. You don't need to know a single song he's ever written because his stage-manner is so engaging he will win you over on affability and talent alone. You have to tune your ear to his accent and your sensibilities to his humour but once you cut through that it's almost like he's half-English.

As an added bonus we're mired in the midst of what seems like a couple months of steady rain. Late afternoon, tropical like stuff. Pay no heed to global warming. If that's not enough there's a cold front coming along with todays rain, which isn't conducive for a trip to the lake and an outdoor concert. There's only about 7 days a year you can sit by the lake, in the evening, and be's not one of them. The Harbourfront grounds are a wonderful testament to pork-barrel politics. 5 things to do, packed tightly into a mere 46 acres. It could use an internal transit system. It's been in constant development for most of my adult life...I think Trudeau bequeathed it to Toronto in exchange for an election victory back in 1972.

Billy brought an opener with him, CR Avery. From the content of his online press it seems he's an eclectic mix of Canadian folk and hip-hop. On the surface, that would be Buck 65's schtick. And I'm a big fan of the little guy from Nova Scotia, so CR's got his work cut out to win me over. I mean, how much room for folk-based-hip-hop do you have on your calendar? I was certainly hoping CR was better at performing than his web designer is at designing websites. When did it become cool to make a site non-user friendly? Some days I miss my Olivetti. Alas, not only is a quart of milk no longer a dollar (actually, it's not even a quart)...Olivetti's not a typewriter company anymore.

It turns out the worst mistake we made wasn't booking a lakeside show in June.
It wasn't even deciding to go in the middle of this monsoon season.
Can't even say it was taking the car into downtown Toronto at rush hour.
No, the worst decision we made was to wait until we got to Harbourfront to eat.
For a place that purports to be on the cutting edge of cultural and heritage promotion, they've certainly overlooked the culinary arts. Stay away from Lakeside Eats if you're in the area. Bag a lunch.

It's a cool and windy night, which explains the odd 'mic-boom' on the recording.
The rain held off, so we had that going for us.

CR Avery is one funky act. He opens the set with a vaguely familiar beat-box-with-the-mouth-on-the-mic chuk-a-chuk, chu-chuk, thing...accompanied by a few harmonica blasts. And something about Sylvie. Turns out it's a warped cover of a Leadbelly tune.

Avery moves behind the piano, starts tinkling away, and introduces the next song by saying; "this is a Blind Boy Grunt song", tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. I'm thinking...'ah, interesting, a blues cover, um hang on...' "he goes by a lot of names..." Hey wait, that's a Bob Dylan pseudonym. Unfortunately I'm unable to react in any manner 'cause I'm on duty as a human mic-stand. He's quickly into a sultry, Waits-like, rendition of Dylan's Oscar winning Things Have Changed.
He does a lot of great things to this song besides the Waits approach. He changes lyrics...normally not something I like done to a Dylan song, kind of like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Instead of Dylan's line, "There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne, we get Avery's rewrite, "Just a woman that I can't seem to get off my miserable brain."

He also throws in a lovely tempo change that is in sync with the lyrics. What has been a rolling, bluesy tune abruptly shifts into a beatbox mix at the chorus, following the lines; "any minute now I'm expecting all hell to break loose." And it does.

Unforunately, he's taken on another affectation of Bob's...he drops verses. I'd be more pissed at this if it wasn't for the fact that Bob deconstructs his songs, both old and new, for live performance. In this version we lose the "wrong town/Hollywood" verse and the "i hurt easy" verse. We also get only 2 out of the 4 bridges, leaving the "first woman I meet/wheelbarrow" and the "Mr Jinx and Miss Lucy" bridges in the dust.
Both things work. It's a very inventive interpretation.
He does co-opt another Dylan trick...closing the song with the same couplet that opened it.

He had me at 'hello', but Avery still has some stuff to show off. He comes to the forward mic with some kind of bizarre rhythm twanging thing and launches into the spoken-word homage to Paul Simon's The Boxer, a poem called The Boxer Who Just Returned From London. Avery uses the 'beat-box-mouth-harp' combination to syncopate boxing gloves bouncing off faces and flashbulbs popping at a press conference. It's an engaging story, well delivered with a couple wonderful flips, most notably the build up to the "moment of clarity" and "I was knocked out in the 5th"
Not sure if Avery realized it but he follows a Dylan cover with a song that's copped another Dylan-reference... "there's always going to be a country music station playing somewhere softly certainly seems to be transtexualized from Dylan's Visions of Johanna: "In this room the heat pipes just cough/The country music station plays soft/But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off. The song closes with a couplet from the original; "I am just a poor boy and my story's seldom told."

Folk-Singer seems to be an open letter to Ron Sexsmith. A tongue-in-cheek look at aspiring folkies and their foibles. Actually, it's more stick-in-the-eye than tongue-in-cheek as Avery takes apart the pretentiousness of the coffeehouse circuit warblers. The critics ARE severe.

Love Song is an anti-love song, seeing as it's lines nearly all start with "don't you hate" followed by a laundry list of annoying things people saying "excuse me" after you've bumped some one, or congregating outside the exit door, or just plain reality tv. He uses a Herbie-Hancock type kee-tar to give this an epileptic seizure inducing beat.

More spoken word with a tribute to the last great leader in the Western World, Canada's own Pierre Elliot Trudeau. I'm a big fan of the man, so this was just a few minutes of Liberal circle-jerking.

His set ends with the closest thing we're getting to a 'real song' tonight, the hypnotically melodic, Door By The River, which actually rolls along lazily, just like a river...until the end.

Outstanding set! I came to have a fun evening with Billy Bragg and ended up with a new artist to track.

Here's the complete set list with some links to audio samples on a few songs:

Track 01 Sylvie (Leadbelly)
Track 02 Things Have Changed (Bob Dylan)
Track 03 The Boxer Who Just Returned From London (spoken word)
Track 04 talk - Grant Showbiz
Track 05 Folk-Singer
Track 06 Love Song
Track 07 Pierre Elliot Trudeau (spoken word)
Track 08 talk - I reside in Moosejaw
Track 09 Door By The River

Billy's set was the usual excellent stuff. I wrote about his 2006 show at The Danforth Music Hall in this piece.

There were some interesting occurences. The Sirius Stage is a small venue, fans sit on circular bench-seats with their back to the lake. If you had a partly cloudy day with a warm breeze blowing over the lake, from the south, it would be wonderful. We had a cold, rainy day with the wind bearing down from the northwest. The artist is looking out over the lake...a nice setting, if you're making gelatin. Billy was buzzed by a seagull and forgot the lyrics to The Warmest Room. At another point he was taken aback by the sight of a plane landing at the Island Airport. If you didn't know there was an airport there it would be a disconcerting sight. He spent an inordinate amount of time talking to a young kid in the audience. By his admission he tends not to allocate so much time to a fan who isn't drunk out of his mind. He delivered on his witty patois. I'm always impressed with his knowledge of current events in the region. Tonight he spoke in honour of the CAW action out in Oshawa...a gutsy attempt to save manufacturing jobs.

Here's Billy's set list with some sound samples as well.

Track 01 Intro
Track 02 This Guitar Says Sorry
Track 03 The Warmest Room
Track 04 talk - Thanks A Yacht
Track 05 Farm Boy
Track 06 The Myth of Trust
Track 07 talk - Fear of Stage Rush
Track 08 Mr Love & Justice
Track 09 talk - Throat Coat
Track 10 Greetings to the New Brunette
Track 11 talk - Heckling Kids
Track 12 I Almost Killed You
Track 13 talk
Track 14 The Space Race Is Over
Track 15 Sexuality
Track 16 talk
Track 17 For Maya/The Internationale
Track 18 Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key(Woody Guthrie/Billy Bragg)(thx for the info doug t.)
Track 19 Ain't Got No Home (Woody Guthrie)
Track 20 talk - Your Rights

Disc 2

Track 01 O Freedom
Track 02 Pinball Wizard
Track 03 Old Clash Fan Fight Song
Track 04 talk - Seeing the Clash
Track 05 I Keep Faith
Track 06 Power In A Union
Track 07 encore/talk
Track 08 Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards
Track 09 Sing Their Souls Back Home
Track 10 A New England

torrent running at dime


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Leonard Cohen
SONY Centre
2008-06-06 & 06-07
2 Nights in TO

Hamilton was nice. First time seeing Leonard in over 14 years and he was in good form...but the first two Toronto shows were outstanding.
On the Friday (Night 1) we had the benefit of an off-day preceeding the show and you could tell Leonard was not wanting for energy or enthusiasm as every word was lovingly delivered when required or powerfully delivered when called for.
On the Saturday (Night 2) we had a much more lively, and intrusive, crowd. In some ways they added to the others, their intrusiveness impacted the flow of the concert, causing them to lose some preambles in front of the songs.
Every night was a different experience, all were top-notch entertainment.

After a lengthy East Coast opening to this tour, where Leonard graced a number of smaller stages, he's now moving the tour into 'big city' mode. The venue is slightly larger in Toronto and, as he moves on from here, he will be playing festivals and large halls in Europe. So the 'cozy confines' part is done, not that the SONY Centre is a cavern or anything.

Having had time to digest the shows since I wrote this report on the Hamilton show, my appreciation only grows with each listen.
Not a single trick was missed with this production. On Friday night my seats were situated in the first balcony so I was able to enjoy the lighting that accompanies the very orchestrated playing onstage. Even it was luscious, with a predominantly blue theme. Much like Leonard's songs. Of course the irony is that no one's misery can make you happy like Leonards.

Did I mention that they don't miss a trick? Not a one, and there are plenty around.

The show opens with the band ambling onstage to a light smattering of applause that grows slowly until Leonard is seen trotting into position, at which time the whole dame place goes crazy; making it twice. Immediately you notice something...the guy's got a smile that could outshine the sun in the sky. Where's the dour, brooding, introspective poet? Well, we'll get introspection, but time's too short and life's too sweet for the dour-brooding part.

Both nights in Toronto he starts a monologue to thank the fans for coming out. His vocal mic is turned waaaaaay down low and though the crowds have been well seated before the start of show, sometimes people don't focus immediately. This little trick brings everyone forward. If they were cats you'd be able to see their ears turn towards the stage as they strain to hear what the master is saying. Except he's saying nothing of consequence, just assorted thanks and mention "that some of you came from great distances," (vocal volume begins to increase), "and at great expense..." by now the crowd chuckles as the volume is at 'speaking level', all can hear clearly and the seat rustling is down to a minimum. He goes on to humbly say that his and his crack ensemble have some songs to "present"...and the music starts, leading us into Dance Me to the End of Love, from the 1984 Various Positions release. A great opening song, it's got a nice beat, you can dance to it, I give it an 82. The beauty is it's not a tune that requires rapt attention. It warms the band and the audience up, and if you don't enjoy the swing, then maybe music ain't your thing. Plus, it's the opening salvo, an invitation to excitation on a journey of discovery.

In a way it's a shame that so much of Leonard's creative musical career fell in and around the 80's...i mean all that synth stuff. This band overcomes that problem, making what was once a cold electronic beat, sound warmer, more inviting, less annoying. It was explained best by my friend Tim Swaddling: "Cohen presented his songs with a band, a real honest to goodness band, one that even came with some steel guitar and a Hammond B3 instead of a Yamaha synth-cheap imitation of an organ...If Leonard is smart, a live album will follow and they won't over polish all the subtle rough edges the band managed to chip into the clean glossy coating Cohen usually paints with. And if Leonard is even smarter, this band will follow him into the studio and he will record drums to sound like drums and guitars that sound like guitars and organs that sound like them. What I wouldn't give to hear a Cohen album produced by someone like Rick Rubin or Steve Albini or even Brendan O’Brien for that matter. And Cohen is a very smart man, so I look forward to the possibility and potential of a future release from him now. Which should make up for the anticipation I had for the release of "Ten New Songs", only to listen to it and find that someone had forgotten to tell Leonard the 80's were over once he had came down from his mountain of monk-dom..."

The Future is evidence that this millenium's Leonard is kinder, gentler and warmer. Not only is the music less 'digital', the lyrics have a slight modification; what once was "give me crack and anal sex", has now become "give me crack and careless sex". Hard to tell if this was changed so as not to offend the sensibilities of the patrons. Perhaps it's a by-product of the realization that the scourge of the '80's, aids, has proven to be more than a gay disease and that the reference to 'anal' sex may marginalize the scope of the problem. Not sure and it's notable only because there are very few lyric changes in any of these songs. Leonard does a lovely little move during the line "white man dancin'" that elicited a different response each night. In Hamilton the audience cheered loudly with the first move...a little less so the second time. On Friday in Toronto there was no response to the first little jig and Leonard skipped the move on the second pass of those lyrics. On the boisterous Saturday night the response to the first dance resulted in a more animated second pass.

Ain't No Cure For Love was prefaced with the "kid with a crazy dream" speech in Hamilton but we don't get it tonight as Leonard leads the band right into the song. The whole setlist is heavily weighted to I'm Your Man and The Future, which serves the show well as those records make up the bulk of what is familiar to the audience and the songs are strong. The backing vocals on this are wonderful and on the Friday night Leonard nails the timing when he implores, "tell 'em angels", as the trio weave their heavenly tapestry. The second night sees him jump in a little early, stumbling into their harmony and kind of spoiling the moment.

Bird on the Wire is Leonard's Blowin' in the Wind , so simple in structure yet so evocative. The audience listens, mesmerized, as each image is unveiled, as each line paints a portrait. It's a very visual song...i can see that woman leaning in her darkened door. The song also contains one of the steepest cliffs in the rock pantheon: "like a baby...still born" For only 5 words it's one roller-coaster ride of emotion. A perfect poem, efficient use of words, for sure.

Everybody Knows doesn't wear quite as well as the other foreboding tales, like The Future or Democracy. If we all knew back then why haven't we fixed anything?

Musical collaborator Sharon Robinson is spotlighted in the melodic In My Secret Life. Honey sweet everytime.

There's an extended solo for string-virtuoso Javier Mas that precedes Who By Fire as Leonard continues to rely heavily on the mid-career no one's chagrin. It's already been a pretty impressive representation of the best of his career as we near the one hour mark of the show...only 1/3 done.

The opening set closes with Anthem. On the Friday show Leonard moves his "just a kid with a crazy dream" speech to the front of this song. It fits well with the spoken word into that admonishes us to "ring the bells, that still can ring/ forget your perfect offering..." How much time's been wasted in the pursuit of perfection, eh? I always marvel at the economy of words. The song also contains a couplet that is the emotional opposite to the 'still born baby' image from earlier: there is a crack in everything...that's how the light gets in In Bird On A Wire a happy thought is thrashed; in this song a sad thought is elevated. Like I said, roller-coaster. As the song runs into it's musical outro Leonard advises they will return as we're given 20 minutes to catch our breath. As winded as I am...I wanna get back on!!

I don't leave my seat for break. I just wait.

Leonard's in front of a Fisher-Price type piano to open the second set with a joke. Knowing most of his audience is likely techno-phobic he warns them before he turns on the synthesizer and the rhythm-beat to Tower of Song starts playing. Another fan favorite that elicits chuckles at the Hank Williams line and loud roars at the "gift of a golden voice" line. He even interjects a joke after "they don't let a woman kill you in the tower of song"...elsewhere, not there." His feel for the mood each evening is amazing. His patter, jokes and even delivery of the songs seem to change for each dynamic created by the individuals and the surrounding.

With a solo amplified acoustic guitar Leonard stands center stage to deliver Suzanne, a song he reports in interviews, is difficult. It is BIG. Big with imagery, emotion, sentiment and ambiance. I'm making a mental note to go down and stare at that Lady of the Harbour the next time I'm in Montreal. Also got a strange craving for tea and oranges. Some songs are bigger than the artist, this is one.

Now every concert has a 'dead zone', that spot where the show lags just a tad. In a three hour set to have only a momentary lapse in the excitement is pretty amazing. Even Springsteen, the undisputed master of live concert performances, has a 5 song lull in his most recent tour. The next two songs mark that low intensity point in this show but they are put to great use. The Gypsy's Wife and Boogie Street showcase the back up singers and give Leonard a little break, for which we'll all be grateful soon. I saw Anjani perform The Gypsy's Wife twice when she stopped in Toronto last year. It was the highlight of the you know it's not the song, it's where it's placed in the set.

So after that stellar opening set we are three songs into the second one and really haven't been challenged. Everyone's comfortably seated after the short intermission, all drinks are drunk. We've passed the 'dead zone' and now it's time to get the audience back.

Hallelujah starts quickly, with no extended musical intro, and quietly as the first few words are whispered. Leonard stands, knees bent, almost huddled over the microphone and begins his prayer. The vocal level rises from verse to verse in this song as Leonard's delivery increases in intensity. It builds slowly at first but within a minute everyone recognizes this is the center-piece of the show. His voice is strong, the song is stronger still. There's no way to adequately review this performance. The Friday night version is amongst the top 5 most powerful songs I've seen done live (ok, maybe top 10 and maybe I can't name 'em all but it's right up there with the best I've witnessed).

Leonard could have walked off the stage right here and no one would have been cheated but we're only at the half way mark.

Well, the half way mark of the concert...we're just about done with this review.

Democracy is a peculiar song for a Canadian audience. I'm sure most misread the intent...we just love the thought of democracy coming (to get) the USA...that's our nature. But as Leonard's introduction notes, he loves the country and this is his love song to America, "the cradle of the best and the worst." It's a hope, more than a threat. We are blessed to be alive in the time of the American Century...and cursed to live in interesting times. But no empire has been built on loftier ideals, so our best bet still seems to be an ascendant America.

The performance on the Friday night show (Night 1) was excellent but the version of I'm Your Man we received on Saturday night was worthy of it's own spotlight. The crowd had a lot to do with it, the more lively mood during the evening, while robbing us of some sublime moments, opened the door to a more raucous enjoyment of a downright bluesy-dirty song. Cat-calls rained down with every sexy line and Leonard's smile, pacing and delivery showed he was loving every minute.

He follows it with an even more overtly sexual recitation, A Thousand Kisses Deep. Another knockout punch that quiets the crowd.

The second set closes with a lively outing for Take This Waltz and two dance songs have bracketed the evening.

Like I said...not a trick was missed.

The encore on Night 1 opens with the jaunty, country-tinged, Heart With No Companion. Think of it as an upbeat Chimes of Freedom. Where Dylan's chimes rang for the downtrodden and dispossesed, Leonard sings for the lonely, unfulfilled and unrequited. Strange how such a song could be joyous. Guess you had to be there.

Waiting For the Miracle To Come was added to the setlist a week or two into the tour. It's a nice addition and a fan favorite. You can tell it means a lot to Leonard, his phrasing is subtle and attentive.

The first encore concludes with First We Take Manhattan and who can bitch about the biggest radio hit Leonard's ever had?

The band doesn't leave the stage between the first and second encores, just Leonard and only momentarily as he runs back out to the mic to deliver a song about his drinking problems, That Don't Make It Junk, some comedic relief, if you can imagine that.

The sublime Webb sisters are spotlighted in the newly added If It Be Your Will. Leonard recites the first two verses before he dissolves into the shadows to allow the two sisters to perform an angelic version of the song.

All bets are off as Closing Time gives allowance to the crowd to let loose.

A quick move offstage and Leonard's back for the final encore. Standing center stage with guitar in hand he starts I Tried To Leave You and every audience breaks out in laughter. A fitting song as it ends with Leonard standing there, hand outstretched, telling the audience he's simply a man "still working for your smile."

How cool is that? Like I said, not a missed trick...and plenty of smiles.

Job well done.

From a critical perspective I would have preferred more songs from earlier in the canon and a handful less band introductions during the show...but that's like saying honey could be sweeter...maybe it could, but there's not a lot of room for improvement.

1 song from debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
1 song from Songs From A Room (1969)
Bird on A Wire
0 songs from Songs of Love and Hate (1971)...c'mon Joan of Arc!
also hoping for Passing Through from Live Songs (1973)
2 songs from New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974)
Who By Fire?, I Tried to Leave You
0 songs from Death of A Ladies Man (1977)ah, c'mon, where the hardon song?
1 song from Recent Songs (1979)
The Gypsy's Wife
4 (out of 9) songs from Various Positions (1984)
Hallelujah, If It Be Your Will, Dance Me To the End of Love and Heart With No Companion
6 (out of 8) songs from I'm Your Man (1988)
First We Take Manhattan, Ain't No Cure For Love, Everybody Knows, I'm Your Man, Take This Waltz, Tower of Song
5 (out of 9) songs from The Future (1992)
The Future, Waiting For The Miracle, Closing Time, Anthem, Democracy
4 (out of 10) songs from 10 New Songs (2001)
In My Secret Life, A Thousand Kisses Deep, That Don't Make It Junk, Boogie Street
0 songs from Dear Heather

Two Nights In Toronto Set List

t01 Dance Me To The End Of Love
t02 The Future
t03 Ain't No Cure For Love
t04 Bird on the Wire
t05 Everybody Knows
t06 In My Secret Life
t07 Who By Fire
t08 Anthem (w/ Band Intro)


(Set 2)
t09 Tower of Song
t10 Suzanne
t11 Gypsy Wife
t12 Boogie St

Disc 2

t13 Hallelujah
t14 Democracy
t15 I'm Your Man
t16 A Thousand Kisses Deep
t17 Take This Waltz

t18 Heart With No Companion (not played on Night 2)
t19 Waiting For The Miracle To Come
t20 First We Take Manhattan
t21 That Don't Make It Junk
t22 If It Be Your Will
t23 Closing Time
t24 I Tried To Leave You
Whither Thou Goest (not played on Night 1)

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Raconteurs
Teddy Thompson
Toronto ON

Jack White passed through town last night, with his backing band The Raconteurs. Now I know there's a lot of you out there screaming "The Raconteurs are NOT Jack White's backing band!" Right. Hold on to that dream. This is not to disparage Brendan Benson, Patrick Keeler or Little Jack on the bass but when you're onstage with Jack White, you're just taking up room. Benson's got a great voice and his guitar work is more impressive than you might think. Keeler is the best live drummer I've seen in the past 5 years. Little Jack does a yeoman's job on bass. Then there's Jack.

Caught a break when the lone Raconteurs show in my general vicinity fell right in between three Leonard Cohen shows. Didn't have to dump any tickets.

Caught another break when the show was switched from the semi-arena, Ricoh Coliseum, to the more cozy confines of the KOOL HAUS. Scheduling conflicts (read: low ticket sales) was given as the reason.

Didn't catch a break when The Black Lips found out it ain't as easy to get into Canada as DHS would have you think. I was really looking forward to the eclectic offerings of that band. Instead we get The Sadies, who bring a Juno nomination and a nod for the #1 Roots album of 2007 from Rolling Stone magazine.

For my tastes The Raconteurs are not the best vehicle for Jack's talents but, hey, I'd rather be in a Buic than walkin'. If there's any consolation it's that the 'cover' songs this year are blues-based (Keep It Clean, Baby Please Don't Go) rather than the 'pop' covers of 2006 (Bang, Bang and It Ain't Easy). I'm not expecting many surprises as the second album release doesn't leave a lot of room for non-Raconteur songs.

Normally I set up in front of the right speaker banks when visiting the KOOL HAUS. I find most fans don't make it past the crowd at the entrance and they tend to settle in on the half of the venue closest to the bar. Even though that's also Jack's side I've decided to set up on the left speaker banks so I can make a quick exit at shows end. Tonight's crowd is a little pushy. No one seems to be concerned with anyone else's concert experience anymore...a little sad. I find a spot behind a 6' 7" behemoth which isn't as bad as it sounds. I could see the stage clearly over his shoulder and no one crowded in behind me. Now the 'stage bargers' they were another story. Line after line of drunk, beer-totin' mullet-heads pushing their way to the front like they were at a Kim Mitchell concert.

The Sadies were impressive. If you like surf-guitar you'll love this band. The songs WITH lyrics, well they weren't as impressive.

The show is a little late as the Racs don't take the stage until close to 9:30 pm. They have this annoying little dance they let their roadies do before the show. For a good 20 minutes after they've laid down the cue sheet for evening (usually the '5 minute' signal) they move on and off the stage, plucking or poking at one instrument or another but in a very choreographed manner. One enters stage left as another is leaving stage right. You think the stage is clear then someone moves behind the drum kit to check the bass drum. As he leaves another roadie emerges from the shadows picks up guitar and leaves with it. Eyes stage left and someone is laying down a guitar on a rack. It goes on and on and serves no purpose other than to keep you fixed on the stage. Pre-show music was killer...a half hour of Howlin' Wolf blues.

Brendan has a number of decent songs this year...tops among them: Switch and the Spur and Many Shades of Black; one a great spaghetti-western pastiche, the other a barn-burner live.

Jack begins to take over the show with his piano stint during You Don't Understand Me followed by his lead on the bitter break-up song, Top Yourself.

The band has come up with interesting rearrangements of most of the songs from the first record, especially Steady As She Goes and Level. Lots of impromptu guitar dueling and toying with the rhythm of the songs. Intimate Secretary and Broken Boy Soldiers get reworked as well.

The show reaches it's pinnacle the with first set closing extravaganza of Charlie Jordan's Keep It Clean followed by the Hank Williams Ramblin' Man dub of Blue Veins.
20 mintues of Jack madness that has to be seen to be believed.

Brendan opens the encore with the lovely Many Shades of Black. The next two songs don't keep up the momentum as Salute Your Solution and Attention come out as a wall-of-sound...all sounds indistinct from each other.

Show closes with a masterful, epic tune, Carolina Drama. Though Jack's been having trouble with his voice tonight he pours all he has left into the finale. A job well done.

Here are some sound samples from the show:

The Raconteurs

Keep It Clean

Ramblin Man/Blue Veins

Carolina Drama

The Sadies

The 400

I saw about 50 shows last year, at least half of them had an opening act. Of all those the only one that was added to my "must see" list was Teddy Thompson. He opened for Nick Lowe and put in a pretty impressive set. Unfortunately his date in Toronto coincided with The Raconteurs show. Fortunately he was playing The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern which has a late time slot for headlining acts: 11 pm on weeknights, later on the weekends. So I thought I'd give it a go.
Unfortunately I got there about 20 minutes into the set. If my taxi driver had run a couple of red lights I might have got the complete Tonight Will Be Fine, a cover of a Leonard Cohen song...but NO, he had to drive safe. I did get about 45 minutes, including an acoustic Everybody's Movin' to open the encore and a reprise of the new single, In My Arms.

Teddy has a full band with him and this show was their tour opener/rehearsal. Sounded fine from 10 feet away. Will have to do a real concert with this guy in the near future.

Sound Sample

In My Arms

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Leonard Cohen
Hamilton ON

What can be said about Leonard Cohen returning to the stage after an abscence of 14+ years? Prior to his East Coast debut on May 11th of this year in Fredericton, the last time he'd graced a concert stage was July of 1993 in Victoria BC.
The big white elephant in the room...well, actually it wasn't because everyone was talking about it, was can the old man still do it?
Well, i hope to put that stuff to rest as fast as Leonard did.

Short answer is YES.

The long answer is much more complicated.

Age is a primary component of this tour. It was the source of pre-tour speculation about the potential quality of the performance. When the scope of the first leg of the tour was announced (over 50 shows in 3 months with THREE ocean crossings)As the tour rolls out these are being put to rest. Early looks at the show via YouTube postings have been beyond encouraging. All accounts have the audiences heaping a palpable amount of reverence on Leonard. Reviews have said it's like a religious experience. Men have been seen weeping. Menopausal women are reporting a rise in libido. The price of oil is, ok, but you get my point, eh? It's all too much and it's just right.

The heartfelt response is genuine. It wasn't created by the star-making machinery. Concert reviewers say Leonard is visibly humbled by the adulation.
Having said that, a good part of the global dementia that has taken over his fans is due to...dare I say it, age. The age of the artist. The age of the patrons. The Age of Man. All these elements converge to make this the perfect show for the present.

And it's not like Leonard's unaware either. He knows he's been gone and the world has turned. His stage patter references this: "It's been so long since I've been on the stage...the last time I was here I was 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream..." audience laughs. He follows with a litany of the drugs he's been prescribed, to get him through his crazy dreams; "...Paxil, Welbutrin... Prozac... have you been?" (more uproarious laughter). In Hamilton a MILF-wannabe yells out "VIAGRA" which causes Leonard to stumble and giggle before he adds this final observation in his preamble to "Ain't No Cure For Love"; "And I also studied all of the religions and the philosophies but cheerfulness kept breaking through..."

In Moncton, while introducing his translation of Federico Garcia Lorca's Viennese Waltz, renamed Take This Waltz, he recounts the same story used in the '90s about finding a book of poetry in a used bookstore and reading the words: "I want to pass through the arch of Elvira, to see her thighs and begin weeping" He says from that moment on that's what he wanted to do. "Where was that arch?" he asks, giggling. He also notes that he feels differently about thighs now and cries for a different reason.

He also knows that while on the surface nothing is the same, underneath nothing has changed. While to some the world is as it's never been, to others it's as it always was. It's as if when he left in '93 he was telling us what we needed to know about what was coming. And now, he's here to say not so much "I told you so" as "I told you it would be so."

And it's not like the audience is unaware. The contemplative songs are met with a wall of silent appreciation. Appreciation for the song and the moment.
Interspersed through the set are a few lively dance songs, sometimes country, sometimes rock and you can almost feel the mood shift from one of studious
attentiveness to the unbridled excitement of the sock hop...from the library to the gym.
The salacious songs are greeted with loud cheers; cheering both the memory of the fire and the lingering desire for life and love that burns still. During the Moncton rendition of I'm Your Man, each declaration of love without limits was met with howls of appreciation from the audience (mostly female exhultations). The line "if you need a doctor i'll examine every inch of you", elicited an almost orgasmic response from one patron.

From the stage each evening Leonard takes the opportunity to thank the fans for keeping his songs alive. The songs themselves are timeless and need no help
enduring. This tour feels like it follows the last by mere months rather than years. It's the subjects of the songs that make them timeless; the ongoing battle in each of us between the mind, the soul and the body; the ego, the superego and the id; the good, the bad and the ugly...a Holy Trinity of Holy Trinities. There is a war and it's further complicated by the addition of passion; a passion for love or hate, for power or freedom, for hanging on or letting go.

The mind vs the soul vs the body. The dynamics of that war changes throughout our lives but the battle never ceases. This tour gives us a chance to put that life-long fight in context. The songs have new meaning when you add a couple decades to them, when they've had time to, ummm, age.

The set lists have been pretty static but the show, as it's built, really leaves very little to be desired. No artist with a 40 year catalogue can do everything. No fan can be dismayed at what they do get. As the tour left the East Coast for a two day stop in rural Quebec, Leonard added a minor twist by including "Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye" for the first time on tour. The monday night show in Kitchener saw the first outing for "Waiting for the Miracle". More reports from the field hint that another half-dozen songs are being readied...among them the very rare, Passing Through.

Day of show sees us busy with afternoon doctors appointments (that likely applies to about 38% of Leonards audience, so we're well within the norm). We met a couple friends from Toronto for some pre-show drinks and chat at a bar close to the venue and found ourselves comfortably seated at quarter of eight. This small hall fills quickly and with every seat taken the lights dim a couple minutes after 8; out stroll 9 musicians and some old guy in a hat. The old guy's got game.

Don't have much to give you on the musicians and back up singers...they are professionals, the music is lush, the sound is heavenly. Of course, if Leonard weren't on the stage we wouldn't be talking about them either.

Cohen moves with caution, like a man who knows that there's no time left for recovery. He stands, mic in hand, bent at the hip, pouring his emotion into each line. There's no caution in his voice. The audience in Hamilton wasn't hypnotized but they were attentive. Except for a bad case of whooping cough that affected the row behind me there were no distractions during the songs and appropriate responses at all the right times. Leonard plays the audience like it was an instrument...same way he plays his women, apparently. His skills have not diminished.

So what can be said about Leonard's return to the stage?

Nothing that will do it justice.

Here's some sound samples from last night, followed by the complete set list.
(just right click and save)


Everybody Knows
Disc 1

(Set 1)
t01 Dance Me To The End Of Love
t02 The Future
t03 talk
t04 Ain't No Cure For Love
t05 Bird on the Wire
t06 Everybody Knows
t07 In My Secret Life
t08 Who By Fire
t09 Anthem (w/ Band Intro)

(Set 2)
t10 Tower of Song
t11 Suzanne
t12 Gypsy Wife
t13 Boogie Street

Disc 2

t14 Hallelujah
t15 Democracy
t16 I'm Your Man
t17 A Thousand Kisses Deep
t18 Take This Waltz

t19 Heart With No Companion
t20 Waiting For The Miracle To Come
t21 First We Take Manhattan
t22 That Don't Make It Junk * static was on inhouse PA *
t23 If It Be Your Will
t24 Closing Time
t25 I Tried To Leave You

source:Church Audio Cardioids>CA STC-9000 Pre-Amp >Edirol R-09 at 24/48 >USB >Sonic Foundry 16bitwave> FlacFrontend
recorded by Krewe Chief

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mike Ford
formerly of Moxy Fruvous
Hugh's Room

Today's the day Mike Ford's Canada Needs You Volume 2 hits the stores. Run right out and buy it! Last night he hosted a CD Release party for a couple hundred (paying) fans at Hugh's Room in Toronto. Mike's found a niche in the Canadian music scene as the custodian of curiousities Canadiana. This guy is so Canadian I bet he bleeds red. If you have children in school struggling with the history curriculum then drop the textbooks and pick up Mike's catalogue. The kids will come out with a renewed interest and a novel way at looking at the world...with eyes wide open to wonder. Hugh's Room is a decent enough little would be perfect without the food. They assign the best tables to those who have a dinner reservation, making for a pricey night out if you want a close seat but aren't up for dinner. Their interest in serving food (and drinks) takes precedence over your interest in listening to the artist, so it can be distracting. On the other hand, the concert special is only $30, choices are varied and it's more than filling. If you don't mind the ambient noise it's worth a visit just to enjoy the cozy confines.

Mike Ford's act is a 'feel good' night. He's got considerable talents; lively guitar work, strong vocals and witty lyrics, combined with his 'boy next door' demeanor, it makes for an enjoyable evening. The past couple times I've seen him it's been at the cozy Renaissance on the Danforth, usually helping fill out the bill for his friends Mike Skliar and Ken Ficara who visit from NYC periodically. Tonight he's enlisted the help of, ex-Fruvous now Great Big Sea, bassist Murray Foster. Along on drums is Mark Mariache, currently backing Ron Sexsmith on tour. Jennifer Bush, who appeared with Mike on "Canada Needs You" is along to help with some backing vocals.

We arrive in time to catch part of the soundcheck and I'm real torn about turning on my mic. When we were here for Steve Forbert he played a great song at soundcheck (which I missed recording) but didn't play it during the show. I decide to be discreet. I'm able to corral Mike for a moment and pass along the DVD my son created from his last night at the Ren in 2007. We also tried to get our reservation changed from a table for two because it looks like there'll be six of us along tonight. The show is sold out though and those accomodations couldn't be made...we were able to get two tables close to each other so we were set for the show.

When we see Mike at The Ren we're usually with a large group of Toronto-area Dylan fans and he spices up his set list with the odd Bob-cover or roots classics. Not tonight. Tonight we get a deep look into Mike's passion for Canadian history and the works he's created, and played for many a Grade 10 student, over the past few years.

Here's the set list, with links to some evening highlights.

Disc 1

Mike Ford (vox, guitar)
T01 Talk - Red Kelly/Giants intro
T02 The Giants (Clayoquot Trials)
T03 Talk - Giants outro
T04 The Story of The Fraser
T05 Talk -Voyageur camp
T06 Les Voyageurs
T07 Talk - Arthur Meighan to D'Arcy McGhee
T08 Darcy McGhee
T09 Talk - Frankenfood
T10 Monsanto(?)
T11 Talk - Thank the teachers
T12 I've Been Everywhere
Mike Ford (vox, guitar), Murray Foster(b.vox, bass), Mark Mariache (Drums)
T13 Talk - Band Intro
T14 Saskatchewan
T15 Talk - Saskatchewan Outro/Intro
T16 In Winnipeg
T17 Talk - EXPO '67 Handbook
T18 Expo 67!
T19 Talk - Jennifer Bush intro
Mike Ford (vox, guitar, piano), Murray Foster(b.vox, bass), Mark Mariache (Drums) Jennifer Bush (b.vox)
T20 I'm Gonna Roam
T21 Talk - $50 bill
T22 Tea Party
T23 A Woman Works Twice As Hard
T24 Talk - Vimy
T25 Creeping Barrage

Disc 2

Mike Ford (vox, guitar, piano)

T01 The Seaway
T02 Talk - Laker Music Project
T03 The Eastern Gap
T04 Talkin' Ten Lost Years
T05 Talk - chorus training
T06 Jacques Cartier
T07 Talk - stree bike racing
T08 Canada Doesn't Need You
T09 Talk - band intro
Mike Ford (vox, guitar, piano), Murray Foster(b.vox, bass), Mark Mariache (Drums)
T10 Crossroads
T11 Maurice Richard
The Cocksure Lads: Reg Topping (vox, guitar, piano), Dusty Fosterville(vox, bass), Mark Mariache (Drums)
T12 Admiral Trafalgar
T13 A Case of the Dropsies
T14 Talk - Arrogant Worms
T15 Late of October
T16 Talk - towel boy
T17 Tank
T18 Talk - Brian Mulroney Sold Out Canada
T19 Open For Business
T20 Heat-Seeker Boy
T21 (encore break)
Mike Ford (vox, guitar, piano)
T22 stars shone on toronto
T23 La Mer

World Debut of Open For Business from a 2007 performance at the Ren. (filmed, edited and rendered by MrMikeL Productions

For a review of Mike's 2007 show at The Ren, click here.

To see where Mike Ford is playing this summer, click here.