Monday, September 22, 2008

New Kids On The Block
ACC Toronto ON

OK, so this one takes me a little off the beaten path.

Took my daughter and her cousin to see this one. If I can spend a few grand a year revisiting the music of my past by seeing the likes of Cohen, Springsteen, Dylan and David Byrne, then these 25 year old cuties should have the same chance.

Too bad the music of their past sucks.

Just kiddin'. Of all the 'boy bands' these guys, especially early, were the most worthwhile. I think of them as The Monkees of the late '80's. They had some solid songs behind them, with a little wit, unlike the dross wet-t-shirt-standing-in-the-rain-buffed-and-tattooed crap that came with the early '90's and bands like Backstreet Boys and 'Nsync. For the first two-and-a-half records this band was fresh and were legitimate descendants of the likes of The Temptations, or at least The Chi-Lites.

NKOTB have been receiving tepid reviews for the launch of this tour in Toronto and it's a disservice. It's a risk to put this kind of venture together. Depending on the mood of the times you can be dismissed as self-indulgent (Spice Girls), revered beyond comfort (Leonard Cohen), or damned with faint praise. The latter is what's happening with this tour. The trouble the reviewers are having is the show is too good to criticize but they just don't have the chutzpah to admit it's authenticity lies in the unabashed joy shared by all present.

I've seen a lot of shows but I've never seen 20,000 people scream non-stop for two hours. I was too young for the early Beatles and too old for the hey-day of the '90's pop-revival. Even in my time I avoided the "big" shows, for the most part. I was dragged to the stadium shows by Supercramp and Fleetwood Crap but usually preferred the smaller halls that housed The Clash and The Ramones, so this type of 'love fest' is a little new to me.

If you measure the success of a show by the response of the crowd, this one was over the top. Every little dance move was replicated...and received with deafening cheers. Each of the performers, especially the three leads, Donny, Joey and Jordan, engaged the audience every minute of the show. Jordan in particular filled the arena screens with a beaming smile all night. A mid-show relocation to a small stage at the back end of the floor gave some lucky fans the opportunity to press flesh with their childhood idols. The boys even took the time to take photo's of each other onstage, using camera's the fans were handing up.

The onstage patter, while a tad formulaic, was endearing. Following Jordan's delivery of I'll Be Lovin' You (Forever) Donny takes a mic to centre stage and is stopped dead by a blistering 4 minute ovation. The crowd just wouldn't let him say "thanks". With the giant screen showing a close-up he took off his glasses, eyes brimmed with tears, voice choking...and let the crowd enjoy the effect they were having on the artist. Another small gift, fully appreciated by all.
He finds a voice to scream out ..."Thank you so much, thank you so much for making the impossible, possible. Thank you so much for showing the world that all those little girls and 5 crazy assed kids from Boston knew what the hell they were talking about!"

And there lies the rub. What a terrific reunion, all in good fun, everyone giving themselves a little time for nostalgia. Of course, it wasn't all looking back. They did no less than 8 songs from their new release, The Block. Good news is...those songs didn't drag the show down. I mean the video duet with the Pussycat Girl girl was border-line lame and the Dirty Dancing showcase was just some eye-candy but Single, Twisted and Summertime sounded like they were yanked out of the past.

The show is well paced, filled with hits, and the new songs sound and feel like they were made for the band. Well, they almost were. The new record is the brain-child and artistic creation of a local kid, Nasri,who was presented with a gold record during the encore break. The lights and stage settings, while not quite reaching the heights of NIN's current configuration, were well done, not over done, and served the set well.

Here's the complete set list and a few song samples.

New Kids On The Block
ACC Toronto ON

Donny Wahlberg
Jordan Knight
Joey McIntyre
Danny Wood
Jonathan Knight

Disc 1

Track 01 Single (from The Block)
Track 02 My Favourite Girl (from Hangin' Tough)
Track 03 (You Got It) The Right Stuff (from Hangin' Tough)
Track 04 Didn't I (Blow Your Mind) (from NKOTB)
Track 05 Please Don't Go Girl (from Hangin' Tough)
Track 06 Grown Man (from The Block)
Track 07 Donny Talks Trash/Crowd Pump
Track 08 Games (from Step By Step)
Track 09 If You Go Away (from NKOTB Tour Collection)
Track 10 2 In the Morning (from The Block)
Track 11 Dirty Dancing (from The Block)
Track 12 Danny Talks, Breast Cancer Awareness/Donny Talks
Track 13 Tonight (from Step By Step)
Track 14 Big Girl Now w/ Lady GaGa (from The Block)
Track 15 Twisted (from The Block)
Track 16 Give It To You (Jordan Knight solo)
Track 17 Stay The Same (Joey McIntyre solo)

Disc 2

Track 01 Cover Girl (from Hangin' Tough)
Track 02 I'll Be Lovin' You (Forever) (from Hangin' Tough)
Track 03 Donny Talks/4 minute ovation
Track 04 Click Click Click (from The Block)
Track 05 Joey talks/Nazri/Gold Record Presentation
Track 06 Summertime (from The Block)
Track 07 encore break
Track 08 Step By Step (from Step By Step)
Track 09 Hangin' Tough (from Hangin' Tough)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Vermillion Lies
Sister Cabaret
The Rivoli Toronto ON

Probably like nothing you've seen before...though your grandmother may have kicked up her heels to the Boekbinder girls ancestors.

Vermillion Lies is what you get when you pour a healthy dose of Vaudeville, a few parts Bozo the Clown, a dash of Greenwich Village, a pinch of Haight-Asbury and a dollop of Liza Minelli into your local dump for antiquities and give it a good stir. I don't think even that description covers it all.

A couple of cuties who hail from ... not sure actually, but they're out of the Bay Area now. They were in Toronto this past August, opening for Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, and have returned for what appears to be a quick 'one-off' date.

Perhaps they have family here. Perhaps they like the green.

The Rivoli is fast becoming a favoured tiny venue. Best part is there's no climbing up any stairs. In the heart of Toronto's trendy Queen St West area it's a premiere indi-spotlight club. It may soon find itself fighting the gentrification of the area, and last winter's fire didn't help as we'll likely see condo's rise like the Phoenix. Some are fighting that plan, let's hope good taste wins out over commerce.

So what's in the box?

Well we're going to have to wait a bit to find out. Zoey's high-school friend Kay Pettigrew is onstage tuning a guitar in preparation for a short opening set. She's got a whole 'billy bragg' thing going, with only the electric guitar to accompany her, but she's much easier on the eyes. And strong songs. A bit too much stage chatter with Zoey, sitting behind the curtains but it was more amusing than annoying.

VM's stage-manager-cum-tour manager-cum-hawker-cum-buddy, Dakota, catches me by surprise when she announces she usually opens with a spoken word, performance piece set. I choose not to record thinking i'd run out of disc space, but she does just one quick number before launching into her introduction to the girls. Almost missed the start, sorry I missed her poem on working in an office.

Zoey starts the show with Done Wrong, a tale about a girl who just can't seem to follow the conventions, doomed to always take the wrong path...and she don't care. Lovely telling couplet in the middle of this song: "my man asks me if i've finished my cleaning/i left him on the doorstep yelling and screaming." And that ain't the half of what's gonna happen to him.

She follows that with a new song, soon to be featured on a 7" release, the beyond bi-curious, Bonnie and Clyde. A little equal opportunity dust bowl lovin' on the lam.

So it's apparent early that we're not getting the normal rock n roll subject matter.

The flip side of the upcoming 7" is New Orleans...a jazzy love tune for a city in need of some.

Long Red Hair continues the pattern of songs about things you wouldn't much think about. Sisters joined at the follicles, rosy and fair, and a man who while trying to come between them, destroys it all.

Ahhhh, now for something in the normal range, a song written on Valentines Day. Maybe. Actually it's more like the precursor to Done Wrong. No Good is a warning, if there ever was one. A unlove letter, complete with manual typewriter.

Now it's time: What's in the box? Part 1 The girls have a trunk that contains various percussion instruments, though intstruments might not be the right word. It's filled with things that make noise...some are found items, others were given, not a one would be found in your average band. First out...a bar-b-que grill.

Found Myself is exactly that...a revelation, a coming of age song, a post-breakup rebirth with the catchy chorus of "today i found myself/ right where i left me / up on that shelf." It even has a mono-syllabic Russian verse and audience sing-a-long.

Next up, one of the three top contenders for strangest song of the night. Well, one of the three finalists, they were all contenders. I Have Your Heart is not the love song you might think it is. You don't get many tunes about transplants.

We're back in the box and this time we get.... a little box! Inside the little box, a little man. A marionette, so i guess it's a stringed instrument, not percussion.

Blue proves they didn't learn the lesson from the Found Myself relationship, and now find themselves alone with company and regretting it. "I'd rather spend the night alone/ in my room / than spend the night alone with you."

Grandfather is finalist #2 of 3..."we want our Grandfathers eyes..." A cutting look at what comes out the mouth of babes.

The girls follow with a clap-a-long song, tantalizingly named She Comes. It's a door-knocking song, though, not what you think. It builds into a funky toe-tapper.

Enough with the sweet and light...time for some vitriol. Wednesday's Child is a song about how the week looks from hump-day. Let me tell you...full of woe doesn't have a lot of time for the Sabbath kid. Nice little tongue-in-cheek twist on the closing line.

Bees laments what the cell phones are doing.Dakota is back onstage lending some theatrics and backing vocals, playing the part of the doomed apodias.

Finalist # 3 of 3, Sex, Drugs and Nuclear Physics, is great look at the laws of attraction...and a few other laws too. It leads to another science song, The Astronomer before the girls revist another freak-collage from the first record, Circus Fish. Somewhere in between we revisited the box to pull out some ... panties, an instrument of torture! Not the bad kind...the excruciatingly good kind.

They've done a great job engaging the audience all night. Everyone's had a great time, from Mothers friends, to the Amanda Palmer fans who returned for a reprise, to myself, a newcomer to the mix.

Main set closes with a 6 minute homage to the planet, Global Warming...more audience participation and an enthusiastic call-back for an encore.

We first get another peak into the box for a variety of instruments/furnishings, including a heating vent, played by an audience member.

The show closes with White Picket, a rarely played stomp-a-long. Fitting song to close a night of songs filled with perilous and peculiar relationships.

Here's the complete set list, with some song samples.

Vermillion Lies
The Rivoli
Toronto ON

Track 01 Done Wrong
Track 02 Bonnie & Clyde
Track 03 New Orleans
Track 04 Long Red Hair
Track 05 No Good
Track 06 What's In The Box? Bar-b-que Grill version
Track 07 Found Myself
Track 08 I Have Your Heart
Track 09 What's In the Box?
Track 10 Blue
Track 11 Grandfather
Track 12 She Comes
Track 13 Wednesday's Child
Track 14 Bees
Track 15 Sex, Drugs and Nuclear Physics
Track 16 The Astronomer
Track 17 What's In the Box?
Track 18 Circus Fish
Track 19 Global Warming
Track 20 encore
Track 21 What's In the Box?
Track 22 White Picket

Friday, September 05, 2008

Robert Gordon
w/ Chris Spedding
Cadillac Lounge Toronto ON

For this years version of Robert and Chris we decided to see if we had the staying power to do two sets in one night. Still appreciative that these guys find their way to this city once or twice a concert bang for the buck. Still not sure why we get these appearances. As Robert noted during the night he only gets together with this band every 4 months or so. The Detroit based rhythm section seems to be on retainer and Chris Spedding's pre-show whereabouts is a mystery.

To add to the enjoyment we booked a hotel just a short streetcar ride, or long walk, away from the bar. No driving, that's a bonus. We get time for a pre-show meal at a local Roncesvalles Village open kitchen. Brief walk along Queen St West to peruse some antiquities and boutiques. A couple/few drinks in our room to get us well lubed before we head to the Caddy. At the Cadillac Lounge renovations are underway. Owner Sam Grosso is taking over the building next door. For now the hole in the wall is covered with tarp but it won't be long before this place almost doubles in size. It'll be interesting to see if that results in more acts...perhaps lifting the Caddy to the level of Hugh's Room as a showcase venue.

They did a great job getting the show started. Doors were set for 8 and by 8:30 the band was on starting the early portion.

Tonight's set was a little looser than the shows from the past few years. A few cuties in the crowd, most notably a couple 30+somethings, all platinum-blondes adorned in bustiers and a younger even more energetic couple of girls, who rimmed the stage, added a saucy component to the nights activities.

Robert had a couple lyric flubs, most notably on set one's Hello Walls were he transposed a couplet from the ceiling verse into the window verse, missing the 'tear/pane' lines. During Suspicion he was momentarily distracted while holding the hand of yet another adoring female fan in the front row and he did the same thing...pulled a couplet from the next verse. Here he repeated "why can't our romance keep growing stronger", instead of holding her hand while exclaiming "why does our romance keep causing sorrow". I like to think he did it on purpose. I believe he stumbled briefly in Walk On By as well...but handled them all like a pro, not missing a beat.

Chris was a little slow out of the box the first set as well. Which is to say he was simply amazing most of the time. My favourite guitarist out a class with Jack White and Jr Brown, for his ability to fill every piece of time with something interesting.

Between sets the 'hockey moms' had bassist Greasy Carlisi well pinned in a corner of the outdoor patio. Todd Glass was bouncing around as well, everybody getting a couple beers in before the midnight set.

Had an opportunity to talk briefly to Robert. I don't usually seek out the artists, figuring I'm like every other fan who has nothing to say but "Hey man, really dug the set," or something equally inane. But I did have a tale to tell him. So I start with a handshake and "Robert, I just want to thank you for coming this way a couple times a year. Your show's always in my top 5 of the year." D!oh

I had more to say though because back in November of '05 I was in London watching Bob Dylan do a Brixton Academy stand. Link Wray, who was Robert's guitar player in the '70's and '80's, had recently passed away. Bob opened 4 of the 5 nights with Rumble, Link's signature tune. As drunk as I was I thought that Robert Gordon would probably like to know this. As it turns out, he wasn't aware and seemed genuinely pleased to find out, saying, "Ahh, that was really nice of him." "And he's got my bass player, Tony" he says, referring to Tony Garnier who was with Robert in the late '80's before joining Dylan's Never Ending Tour in 1989. Robert moves over to the bar, leaning over for support, it seems he's having some trouble with his back tonight. Now he's got something to share about Bob: "Dylan came to see Link and I in London, (This would likely have been in the early to mid 80's) and he was pitching me some songs. He had 8 or 9 and he'd play one and I'd go 'hrrrmpph'. He plays another and I go, 'naaaaahhhrrr'. I was in a bad way back then, don't know what I was thinking." Robert goes on to say he should be opening for Bob, that would be a gig. I tell him Bob's mired in some Civil-War motif now and it would be best to wait awhile. Gotta wonder what songs Bob was floating though. Maybe I'll ask next time he's in town.

The second set was much better; the girls were bouncier, Chris found a ton of transcendant moments delivering his best-ever Guitar Jamboree. Robert was enjoying the crowd as much as we were him. Unfortunately my recording was marred by a strong air-conditioning system and an incessant buzz in the PA. Not my enjoyment of the set, though.

Here are some songs and sound samples:

Early Show

Robert's Set
Track 01 The Way I Walk
Track 02 I'm Gonna Be Your Loverboy Tonight
Track 03 Hello Walls
Track 04 I'm A Hot Rod
Track 05 Suspicion
Track 06 Look Who's Blue
Track 07 Fire
Track 08 Barry White Interlude
Track 09 Wild Wild Women

Chris' Set
Track 10 Instrumental
Track 11 Shakin' All Over
Track 12 Wild Thing
Track 13 Guitar Jamboree
Track 14 Motorbikin'

Robert's Second Set
Track 15 Beside You
Track 16 Mess O' The Blues
Track 17 Devil In Disguise
Track 18 Walk On By
Track 19 A Picture of You (John James Beveridge - Peter Andrew Ooakman)
Track 20 Move It (and Groove It)
Track 21 There You Go
Track 22 Bertha Lou
Track 23 Rockabilly Boogie
Track 24 Red Hot

Late Show

Robert's First Set
Track 01 The Way I Walk
Track 02 I'm Gonna Be Your Loverboy Tonight
Track 03 Hello Walls
Track 04 I'm A Hot Rod
Track 05 Suspicion
Track 06 Look Who's Blue
Track 07 Lonely Weekends
Track 08 Fire
Track 09 Wild Wild Women

Chris' Set
Track 10 Instrumental
Track 11 Shakin' All Over
Track 12 Wild Thing
Track 13 Guitar Jamboree
Track 14 Motorbikin'

Disc 2

Roberts Second Set
Track 01 Beside You
Track 02 Mess O' The Blues
Track 03 Bad Boy
Track 04 Move It
Track 05 Walk On By
Track 06 Devil In Disguise
Track 07 I Just Found Out
Track 08 Rockabilly Boogie
Track 09 Red Hot