Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 5 Shows of 2010

Another great concert year. This list doesn't even include The Specials, Billy Bragg or Gord was that good.

#5 CR Avery (some bookstore in ON)

A terrific, unexpected surprise as CR finds the zone for a half-dozen songs amongst row after row of books.

#4 Wanda Jackson (Cosmic Charlie's, Lexington, KY)
The First Lady of Rock N Roll, the Queen of Rockabilly, struggles a little with a tired voice but delivers the goods. Carrying the torch.

#3 Levon Helm's Ramble w/ Steve Earle (Woodstock, NY)
Not too much Levon but that was more than compensated for by Larry Campbell's emergence. Steve Earle was a bonus that made this night memorable. (no audio)

#2 Patti Smith (Tipitina's, New Orleans LA)
The Godmother of Punk opens with Be My Baby. 'nuff said. Special guests too.

#1 Evelyn/Evelyn w/ Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley (The Great Hall, Toronto)

Always glad when I discover something new. Can't get this show out of my cd player.

and of course, Horrible Mention:

Simon and Garfunkel (New Orleans Jazzfest)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tim Finn
formerly of Split Enz and Crowded House
The Courthouse Toronto ON

I first saw Tim Finn in the 'new wave' incarnation of Split Enz when they toured North America in the early 80's. The first couple times were here in Toronto, they had Blue Peter opening for them at the Concert Hall (the old Masonic Temple). They announced a special Horseshoe set for the following evening, in celebration of someone's b'day, and I was fortunate enough to be free for that impromptu gig.
The band never really broke, much as 'new wave' never did, until alternative became mainstream and all the songs of our youth started showing up as adverts. The good news part of that is... what's old is new again!

Their best effort by far, was 1980's True Colours, with the great pop tunes, Shark Attack, I See Red and I Got You.

Saw them one more time, in New Jersey in 1981 where they opened for Tom Petty. I left after the opening set, happy to have travelled 500 miles for a 32 minute concert.

Finn went on to be a member of the less frenetic, but more boring, Crowded House.

Last night Tim Finn played a lovely local venue, The Courthouse, and he brought a bit of the old, a bit of the middle and a fair helping of the new, to the plate.

But before that, we had an interesting opening set. Tim Finn had contacted Eileen Rose because she posted herself as a 'friend' on his mySpace page. He checked out a few of her songs, liked what he heard, rang her up and, without the benefit of middlemen, signed her on for a handful of shows.

She was onstage doing her soundcheck when they let us in the venue and she spent some time talking with the audience, setting a nice mood in the very luxurious but cozy venue. There are leather couches all around the side walls, facing in all directions, and not too big a main floor. There are 4 working fireplaces which works to make the ambience more like a large living room than a small concert setting. Most people who weren't on the couches actually SAT on the floor. Not me,I stood up, about 15 feet back in the center. There was trouble with the monitors during a lovely rendition of what might have been called Why Am I Awake While You're Sleeping, it was a sign of difficulties to come.

Just her and her nephew onstage. One acoustic guitar (no extra charge for the feedback issues) and one electric, though the nephew does make his way over to the electric piano for a couple tunes. Her set opens with a bouncy song called, I
believe, Love Don't Forget About Me. She follows with Would You Marry Me?, and it almost like we have theme developing.
Sound problems intervene to spoil the mood. It's mostly onstage where they are having trouble, the mix coming out of the PA seems fine. She performs a song from her soon to be released 2nd album, I'm the Only One, before revisiting her debut release for Nothing But Blue. All the songs sound interesting and she's trying her best to stay focussed while she wrestles with a muddy mix. Very unpretentious stage prescence though as she jokes freely about her trial-by-fire.

Things settle nicely for Tom Waits Crooning and then she tries to close her set with the wonderful Shining. (Do visit her mySpace page to listen to this song, a suitable introduction.) She takes three stabs at playing the song with her lead guitar getting more and more ornery. The third time she just sang, leaving her nephew to provide sparse instrumentation...but even that wasn't to her liking.

At this point she makes a move that saves what could have been an horrific outing. Yanking out the guitar plugs she says she's going to do this acoustic. Both unplug and step onto the floor of the venue to do the song right through, with no amplification, from about 5 feet away. Her persistance and good manner won the crowd over.

Eileen Rose
The Courthouse
Toronto ON
(opening for Tim Finn)
Track 01 Love Don't Forget About Me
Track 02 Would You Marry Me? (?)
Track 03 talk-sound complaints
Track 04 I'm The Only One
Track 05 Nothing But Blue
Track 06 Tom Waits Crooning
Track 07 Shining (3 false starts version due to sound issues)
Track 08 Shining (unplugged, acoustic version from 5 ft away on the floor)


Track 09 Drink Order/Sound Check/Pre-show Chat with Audience
song: Why Am I Awake While You're Sleeping (?)

The crowd at this venue is much older than I'm used to seeing. Which is why they are mostly sitting, I guess. When the heros of your youth take the stage as silver-haired memories of themselves, you know you're getting old as well. On the other hand, just seeing them out here, reaping the benefits of their mispent youth, is life affirming.

Tim addresses this immediately by opening with the oldest song of the night, 1977's My Mistake, from the Splitz Enz catalogue, followed by Couldn't Be Done, from 2006's solo effort, Imaginary Kingdom. Given there's 30 years between the tunes, they share an infectious pop-sensibility that never ages.

He dips into Split Enz's True Colours for the alternative hit, Poor Boy and moves back up to the present for the celestial Astounding Moon. Bit of a see-saw ... or perhaps, saw-see, given the sequence, thing going on here.

Another dip into the Crowded House catalogue for How Will You Go? before we get what I believe is an unrecorded song, a parable called, The Saw and the Tree. Now there's a contentious relationship.

Persuasion, penned in concert with Richard Thompson, gets a rise out of the audience but it's Dirty Creatures that steps it up a notch. Fun to here these songs done with bare accompanionment, stripped and minimalist. He continues, back and forth
through his catalogue, until he closes with a couple more from True Colours, I See Red and Shark Attack...worth the price of admission.

Tim Finn
The Courthouse
Toronto ON

Track 01 Intro
Track 02 Mistake
Track 03 Couldn't Be Done
Track 04 Poor Boy
Track 05 talk
Track 06 Astounding Moon
Track 07 How Will You Go?
Track 08 Saw and the Tree
Track 09 Persuasion
Track 10 Dirty Creatures
Track 11 Salt to the Sea
Track 12 Not Even Close
Track 13 talk
Track 14 Winter Light
Track 15 So Precious
Track 16 It's Only Natural
Track17 Parihaka
Track 18 I See Red
Track 19 Mockery
Track 20 Shark Attack

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Joe Jackson
Danforth Music Hall
Toronto ON

Second in a series of blogs that got left behind.

Nice show from new wave-popster Joe Jackson at the Musical Hall in April.
The songs from the new album (Rain) harken back to the early '80's, which is fortunate, because Joe chose to fill the rest of the evening with a hearty dose of tunes from the start of his career. Couldn't have asked for much more.
Oh ya, covers...a nice one from Bowie and a fun piece from Ellington.
I was really impressed with the drummers work and Jackson is no slouch on the piano either!
Much different attitude from the dude too. Last time I saw him...somewhere back in the early '80's, he played what was to date the second shortest headlining set I'd ever witnessed...somewhere just under 40 minutes. He brings a much more substantial show to the stage now.

Here's the full set list with a few mp3 samples if you're interested.

Joe Jackson
Danforth Music Hall
Toronto ON

The Band:

Joe Jackson vocals, piano and shaky thing
Graham Maby bass, backing vocals
Dave Houghton drums, backing vocals

Disc 1

t01 Home Town (from Big World, 1986)
t02 Steppin' Out (from Night and Day, 1982)
t03 Another World (from Night and Day, 1982)
t04 Too Tough (from Rain, 2008)
t05 Citizen Sane (from Rain, 2008)
t06 talk - 'balmy Toronto'
t07 Dirty Martini (from Volume 4, 2003)
t08 Wasted Time (from Rain, 2008)
t09 Cancer (from Night and Day, 1982)
t10 On Your Radio (from I'm The Man, 1979)

t11 Solo (So Low) (from Rain, 2008)
t12 The Uptown Train (from Rain, 2008)
t13 Chinatown (from Night and Day, 1982)

Disc 2
t01 Scary Monsters (Super Creeps) (David Bowie)

t02 It's Different For Girls (from I'm The Man, 1979)
t03 Good Bad Boy (from Rain, 2008)
t04 You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want) (from Body and Soul, 1984)
t05 One More Time (from Look Sharp!, 1979)
t06 encore break/talk
t07 Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Duke Ellington)
t08 Is She Really Going Out With Him? (from Look Sharp!, 1979)
t09 band intro/talk
t10 A Slow Song (from Night and Day, 1982)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Corin Raymond
and the Sundowners
Live Concert Shoot
The Cameron House
Toronto ON

Tryin' to get some moving pictures in the tight confines of the Cameron House. Not an easy task. Big thanks to the staff and audience for being tolerant and accommodating.

Corin Raymond has just returned from a month long tour of the west coast and prairies with Sean Cotton in the guise of The Undesirables.
Tonight's version of Corin is in collaboration with the Sundowners. Alt-country with an urban edge.

We have three cameras running in the hopes of getting a few gems to include in an upcoming DVD that will feature Corin Raymond and the Sundowners creating an album of covers penned by contemporary North American songwriters.

Toronto's Troubadour, Sweatmaster Flash, Corin leaves it all on the stage then uses his shirt to wipe up the residue.
He's got a crack band behind him. David Baxter brings a level of talent on the slide guitar and mandolin that exceeds the requirements for a walk up set. JUNO award winner, he's a player and a shaker, producing records when he's not making them. You can hear his licks weekly on Degrassi:The Next Generation. Treasa Levasseuradorns the stages of most Parkdale clubs, playing when the opportunity presents itself, and has talent that threatens to lead her to the Big Time. In 2008 she won CBC's "Ultimate Sideman Showdown" and she's graced the stage of the venerable Massey Hall in the Women's Blues Revue. Brian Kobayakowa on stand up bass is a regular in The Creaking String Quartet and a handful of other bands that work scene on Queen.

Corin has another weapon with him onstage...a great catalogue of songs from writers known and unknown. Much as he loves to perform you can tell from his stage patter that he is in a constant state of wonder when he sees and hears the depth of songwriting talent you can come across if you keep your ears and mind open.

Here are some song samples. They are all great but don't miss Hard on Things.

Corin Raymond and the Sundowners
The Cameron House

Corin Raymond vocals, sweat
David Baxter guitar, mandolin
Treasa Levasseur accordion, piano
Brian stand up bass

Set 1

Winter Is the Warmest Time of Year
talk- dedication to Paul Sannella
Anastasia (Max Metro)
100 Candles (The Swiftys)
talk - Alberta
Old Fort Mac
Hard on Things
Riding West on Dundas
River Town (Hays Carl/Guy Clarke)
I'm A Fucking Genius (Raghu Lokananthan)
Stealin' My Heart
Ethel's Lounge (Doug Norquay)
talk - Doug Norquay and radio play
Waitin' on the Ending of the Day (Doug Norquay)
3000 Miles
Band Intro
Sugar Candy Mountain (Raghu Lokananthan)

Set 2
That's Life
Blues Mama (John Borra)
The Lord Loves A Wino (Adam Olmstead)
If Wishes Were Horses
Brand New Song (Andrew Neville)
Hello Hello
talk - pie off
Georgia On A Fast Train (Billy Joe Shaver)
There Will Always Be A Small Time
encore break
Blue Mermaid Dress
Take Me To the Mountain (for Paul Sannella)

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Waterboys
Danforth Music Hall
November 5, 2007

Looking back, as I'm wont to do at this time of year, I see a handful of shows for which I never created a review.
Figure I'd fill the down time over the winter by revisiting those concerts.
Coming Soon: Tragically Hip, Arctic Monkeys, Joan Armatrading, Bruce Springsteen and more!

We'll start with The Waterboys.
For reasons I can't explain I never got around to doing a report on this show. It was at my favourite venue and it was excellent beyond expectations. I went only to hear Whole of the Moon and Fisherman's Blues and came away with an undying respect for Mike Scott's performance skills.

I like to study the bands I'm going to see in detail. Either they are new and the interweb has given me access to all they've done, or they've been around awhile and I'm familiar with their catalogue. This band falls into neither category for me. The two songs above are excellent, and pretty well the full scope of my exposure. That's something I should correct.

The W'Boys are touring Book of Lightning. Soul and spirit. Pointing a finger at the cowards who rule Burma and penning a love song to rival all.

Mike Scott must have warmed up his vocal chords in the dressing room because he launches the show at full force. Appropriate opening song, a Dylanesque-mini-Chimes of Freedom tolling for the fool and the clown, The Man With the Wind at His Heels is singing in the night. The song introduces a minor theme in tonight's set; the relationship between monarch and subject, government and citizen, oppressor and oppressed, and the forces of history on the lot of both parties.

The fight against the oppressors is not easy and Glastonbury Song is a testament, if it ain't a witness, to the source of the strength required to take on the task. Scott's inflection, pacing and voice are wonderful as he pounds out this power-pop song of faith found and spirit renewed. I'm not defender of the faith but I wouldn't go as far as the BBC and not play this song because the chorus makes you squirm. I'd have a little more respect for the art of the show.

Now armed with reason and weapons Scott slips into his best Bono-mode and takes up the fight with the military junta in Burma. After noting the band has been away from Toronto for too long, he introduces two topical songs and dedicates them to the "Burmese government, five terrified men," launching into the thinly-veiled threat that is It's Gonna Rain. Nothing shy about this indictment of the despots that predicts their inevitable fall in apocalyptic terms, reminiscent of Dylan's When the Ship Comes In in tone, but a backed by a full-on sonic attack.

Same message, different medium. Love Will Shoot You Down looks to the unwavering strength of the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi
and her brave followers and finds the weapon.

That was an intense quartet to open the show. Passionate deliveries on serious subjects without once denegrating into a boring diatribe. A calling to arms without the sanctimonious appeal to guilt. It's kind of like a Sting concert without Sting. And with rock n roll.

A change of pace in the show as we switch to a few introspective songs, starting with the emotion of love in Killing My Heart. There's a battle raging in this song. He belongs to another but he's not quite resigned himself to the loss of a former lover. Sneaky feelings he cannot speak.

The crowd responds with a burst of applause to the opening chords of Old England, from what I understand a rare outing. A bittersweet lament for the loss of, not imperial power because that would be wrong, but moral purpose and the subsequent loss of prestige. It happens to all empires and resonates in these days as we see the Western Empire, led blindly forward by it's new Captain, America, struggle to maintain it's death-grip and dignity, as if you could own both.
A slight modification to the lyrics; "and in Iraq he bangs his gong..." replacing the more timeless "and sticks his flag where it ill belongs...".

Umm, hang on here, isn't this about the music?

Well first a little soul, mixed with a dash of Scottish fantasy, as Mike Scott opens with the refrain from Mahalia Jackson's Since the Fire Started Burning in My Soul
and leads into his lengthy, otherwordly, Peace of Iona. This works as a soothing interlude in the show, time for the audience to relax, catch it's communal breath, float on a sea of orchestral music, complete with melodic chanting.

Intermission's over.

Let's have some fun.

Scott breaks the spell he's cast, snapping us back to the real world, the now, with the band introductions and after a brief intro jumps into a rollicking version of Raggle Taggle Gypsy. A reworking of the traditional tale Black Jack Davey, and perhaps a handful of other English ballads, only with gypsy's instead of pirates.

Then with no introduction we're right into a joyous version of Whole of the Moon. A perfect pop song, lightning in a bottle. I think even Mike was caught off-guard as he gives a little "Whoa! Whole of the Moon" at the end of the song, and it didn't sound sarcastic.

He pulls the band together for a little huddle and comes out talking spiritual songs, this one written by Johnny Mercer, as they kick into a fun-filled version of Accentuate the Positive. Fits nicely into tonights theme. "Thanks boys, that made my night," he says at songs end.

By this point we've already got great value for our money. The quality of the performance, the pace of the show, the connection between the artist and the audience, it's all tangible. But they're not done yet.

Sustain, written with Ida Nilsen, of Great Aunt Ida, tonight's opening act, is a little hard to figure out. Lyrically it's complex and it's allusion to a knight of the Round Table doesn't help me comprehend. However, aurally, it's a song of triump in tough times. The sentiment and emotion in the repetitive refrain is life affirming, even if the storyline is dense and inaccessible. I'd have someone tell me what it means but I fear it might ruin the song for me.

The next song was the highlight of the night and may be the third best live performance I've witnessed. (Dylan's Isis and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah being the other two.)It's an extraordinary love song and ranks close to Tangled Up In Blue as one of the best ever.

It opens with a bit of a whimper, a cliche that might have appeared on a motivational poster in a '70's headshop...if you love someone, let them go, if they return...yada,yada,yada.

She tried to hold me
She tried to hold me
She didn’t know
love is letting go

The chorus, while it's comparatively droll, is surrounded by some of the best writing pop music has seen. An economy of words that's astounding. The song covers a long period of time and changing perspectives and attitudes. Each line has a thousand unwritten words in its shadows. The images are cinematic; the emotions belong in the purview of the gods.

Lyrically it doesn't stray much from the album version, perhaps only the demon/devil switch but it is in another world when it comes to the performance. On the record it's a good song, better than average. Live, it's a volcano. The explosive parts are unrestrained in concert. His phrasing is razor sharp, not a word misses its mark. The inflection on 'perfection-strode-direction', 'unrealistic-ballistic','stairwell-farewell', are achingly poignant. The verses are precise, tight, aided by some outstanding couplets.

First verse; the courtship. No holding hands at the soda shoppe here. She's in charge, and on the prowl. In eight lines she tracks and controls her prey with a sense of purpose that might have been alluring, if not boner inducing.

She said ‘I’m looking for perfection’
as she strode in my direction
She cast her mantle round me,
said ‘I’m completed since you found me’
She executed her enchantment
secreted me in her encampment
With diversions and pretences
she dismantled my defences


Second verse; the conflagration. It's not like he wasn't warned. I love the juxtaposition of the 'powder blue pajamas' with the 'ballistic' girl.
And how excruciatingly telling are the descriptions of the combatants; 'flotsam in her drama', 'skin surrounding thunder', wow.

She told me I was unrealistic
and then she went ballistic
in her powder blue pajamas,
me some flotsam in her drama
She said “love’s what I believe in”
but inside she was seething
with a cyclone raging under
like she was skin surrounding thunder


Third verse; the escape. The tempo changes slightly now, from the titillating introduction to the explosive break up, we now get a more resigned view, with retrospection, though not reconcilation. A superbly visual octave, it's a moving picture. If there's a peak to this song, it's the plaintive cry in the closing couplet of this verse.

I made it to the stairwell
in the street I muttered farewell
with a driving wind agin me
and shame exploding in me
It took me six years to begin again
to feel secure in my own skin again
for she lingered like uranium
like a devil in my cranium


Fourth verse; the bitter-sweet residue. Looking back with rose-tinted glasses...or a new found respect for human short-comings. The tempo drops again, the voice, once bombastic, is now sympathetic. Scott's not finished working the song as his phrasing on 'deployed a little patience' and 'stipulations' leaves the lingering sense of a wish for a second chance that wasn't coming.

All this was long ago now
and if I knew then what I know now
I’d have deployed a little patience
I’d have laughed at all her stipulations
but I was young and I fumbled
a boy-fool whose castle crumbled
I couldn’t save her
though I forgave her


A tour de force. Takes your breath away like an Orkney Island winter.

Back to some Scottish dance-hall music, a jig, about a love-torn lad laying his claim and an undecided lady. When Will We Be Married? lets the band loose on another smile inducing tangent.

Scott's got a love for literature. Never more apparent than his attachment to WB Yeats. The Stolen Child is an adaptation from 1988. Just this past year he toured a whole set of Yeats poems set to music. A sad poem steeped in Irish mythology, about a world gone wrong, or a resigned ode to the passing of the light . I might never know.

Now while I've said a lot, I haven't said near enough about this band. They'll remain anonymous to me but they've matched Scott's intensity throughout the night. Some of these songs are orchestral, others flat out rock n roll. The arrangements vary from complex to a runaway freight-train. And they're tight. Very little downtime in this show. Even the stage patter was limited, consise and relevant.

Red Army Blues is a harrowing tale of a real-life tragedy that befell 2,000 Russia soldiers at the moment the Cold War was replacing the seemingly endless Wars for European Supremacy. Not at all out of place this evening as we think about the social contract we all have with our leaders, be they Kings, despots or elected officials.

The band lets loose again on an explosive version of Medicine Bow.Henry David Thoreau with an attitude.

Encore one opens with a chance to catch our breath as we get a cover of Springsteen's Independence Day. A treat, I saw Bruce in the '70's and the River Tour 4 times so it means something to me but it doesn't elevate the song beyond what Bruce did with it.

Back to the ethereal with The Pan Within. Sounds a little like an invitation to some tantric sex.

Second encore opens with the You In the Sky, like Glastonbury Song< , a song of devotion but there seems to be a communication problem.

Fisherman's Blues sends us off into the night, singing 'woo hoo', a more secular celebration of the wonder of life. It was great to hear the songs I knew, done with adherence to the original arrangement.

Sound samples under the hyperlinks.

Disc 1
T01 Intro
T02 The Man With The Wind At His Heels (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T03 Glastonbury Song (Dream Harder, 1993)
T04 It's Gonna Rain (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T05 Love Will Shoot You Down (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T06 Killing My Heart (Best of the Waterboys, 1991)
T07 Old England (Best of the Waterboys, 1991)
T08 Since the Fire Started Burning in My Soul/Peace of Iona(Mahalia Jackson cover/Universal Hall, 2003)

T09 Band Intro
T10 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
(Room To Roam, 1990)
T11 Whole of the Moon
(This Is The Sea, 1985)
T12 Accentuate the Positive
(Mercer/Arlen cover)
T13 Talk
T14 Sustain
(Book of Lightning, 2007)
T15 She Tried To Hold Me
(Book of Lightning, 2007)

Disc 2
T01 When Will We Be Married (Fisherman's Blues, 1988)
T02 The Stolen Child (WB Yeats, Fisherman's Blues, 1988)
T03 Red Army Blues
(Pagan Place, 1984)
T04 Medicine Bow
(This Is The Sea, 1985)
T05 encore break
T06 Independence Day
(Springsteen cover)
T07 The Pan Within (This Is The Sea, 1985)
T08 second encore break

T09 You In the Sky (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T10 Fisherman's Blues (Fisherman's Blues, 1988)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bob Dylan
Amherst and Lowell MA
2010-11-19 & 20

OK I promised my wife we wouldn't travel to see Bob this fall and it sure looked like I was about to break my streak of 17 consecutive years. Then he books a Saturday show within driving distance and the opportunity arises to hook up with some old friends. Couldn't say no. And couldn't do just one.

A light drizzly snow for the ride out keeps the pace at moderate; a good way to start a 2,000 km weekend.

As an added bonus we got to stop at the Rat Pack themed Delmonico's in Utica NY
for some red meat and blue martini's. There was the Brushcetta Pomodoro and the Roma Tomato and Mozzarella Salad for openers. Ordered the smallest steak I could find, a 9 0z filet. The wife opted for a more sensible pasta meal.

For the first time ever we tried that 'priceline auction' site. Except for some difficulty getting a guarantee the hotel we select will be 'accessible' it worked out pretty good. Saved about $60 and it only cost us 10 minutes of driving time.

Now travelling for Dylan always results in more than just the music. Good thing too because since June of 2005 it's the side-bar stuff that makes these trips worthwhile. The extras this time centered around poets...Emily Dickinson's house in Amherst and Jack Kerouac's Lowell. Forget what you heard about spoken word, it's coming back strong in the inner cities.

Time and circumstance prevented us from getting to Emily's abode in time for a full tour.

It didn't prevent us from hooking up with friends for dinner and making it to the venue with time to spare.

Our seats sucked terrilbly, first row on the corner at the back. Seems like everyone who went on the floor passed in front of us. To add to the confusion there were a ton of late arrivers, people still taking their seats at the 5th and 6th song. They were bumping into the people who chose to leave by the 5th or 6th song. It was chaos.

But the sound was great.

And Bob was good. Most songs have new arrangements. The blues numbers have lost their punch, most notably in Hwy 61 and HWM. There's a sameness to most of the songs that makes it even more difficult to recognize them than in the past...and it had nothing to do with mumbling lyrics. The vocals were surprisingly clear.

No bombastic solos from Charlie, or anyone. The band is tight, all the tricks are small things inside the songs. Thankfully both Stu and Donnie are almost non-existant so Bob is inching ever closer to being back in a rock band and away from the country-swing, civil-war, bore band.


Someone has to transcribe the new lyrics for Gonna Change My Way of Thinking. The chorus is there but the rest seems new.
Shooting Star is always a rare treat, the song is better than any performance could be but it deserves an outing.
Tangled Up In Blue and Ballad of A Thin Man, with Bob at center stage, were worth the price of admission on their own.
Can't Wait was another rare and mystical tune that I'm always happy to hear.


An unfocussed Hard Rain was less than stellar. The new arranagement of HWM has taken away it's few redeeming values and Thunder on the Mountain sounds worse if you can actually hear the words.

Songs that made me go, meh:

The fans like Spirit, but it's a one-trick pony. Mobile is as Mobile takes up 5 minutes. Tweedles and Hwy 61, pretty regular in the set, don't advance the show much. Workingman's Blues #2 might be better than I thought on first listen but was so radically changed I couldn't discern. You gotta wonder what we're missing to get Jolene every night. Oh, wait, that would be Watchtower. LARS is nondescript, which is a crime for the greatest song ever written.

Mullins Arena
Amherst, MA

1. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
2. Shooting Star
3. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
4. Spirit On The Water
5. Rollin' And Tumblin'
6. Tangled Up In Blue
7. Honest With Me
8. Can't Wait
9. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
10. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Workingman's Blues #2
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man
15. Jolene
16. Like A Rolling Stone

Lowell's not an easy city to drive around. With waterways and triangular street intersections it takes a few days to get your bearings. We didn't have that, so we spent most of our time half-way lost. But not all of it.

Cece did a great job scouting out my Kerouac locations and we were able to hit more than I would have accomplished going gonzo.

Some were easy, it seems we couldn't miss running into the High School.
"By nearly all accounts-classmates, teachers, even his own writing--Kerouac was a shy but popular student. A standout in track and football, and a fine outfielder on the baseball team, Kerouac also earned A's and B's in his classes. In Maggie Cassidy he mentions a Spanish course, the poetry of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, the great difficulty of physics, and "wonderful classes in some kind of pre-science fiction astronomy, with an old lady with a long stick demonstrating moons at the blackboard." Kerouac graduated from Lowell High School in 1939, three months after his seventeenth birthday."

A little more difficult find was the Memorial. I finally took a backdoor into it by travelling over the trolley tracks and finding a parking spot. A large group of marble obelisks with engraved writings.
"The Jack Kerouac Commemorative... must be one of the most unique public art pieces in the United States. The opening passages from Kerouac's five "Lowell novels," as well as passages from On the Road, Lonesome Traveler, Book of Dreams, and Mexico City Blues are inscribed on eight triangular marble columns. The arrangement of the columns and the surface stones form a kind of Buddhist- Christian mandala. The symmetrical cross and diamond pattern of The Commemorative is a meditation on the complex Buddhist and Catholic foundation of much of Kerouac's writing."

The best find was the grotto in Pawtucketville.  These are the Catholic "Stations of the Cross" leading to the cave. "The Grotto (fashioned after a mini-Lourdes, where a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to a French peasant girl) and Stations of the Cross were constructed in 1911. Whole passages of Doctor Sax, including the very ending, are set here at the Grotto. Kerouac and his mother often stopped here on walks from their home in Pawtucketville. In Doctor Sax, the place is "mad, vast, religious, the Twelve Stations of the Cross, little individual twelve altars set in, you go in front, kneel, everything but incense in the air (the roar of the river, mysteries of nature, fireflies in the night flickering to the waxy stare of statues, I knew Doctor Sax was there flowing in the back darks with his wild and hincty cape)."

Came acroos the Moody Street Bridge. "Known to Kerouac fans as "The Bridge Where the Man with the Watermelon Died." The name is taken from the title, and events, of "Book Four" of Jack Kerouac's Doctor Sax. One "baleful black night," Jack and his mother were returning from a visit to Aunt Clementine and Uncle Mike's house. They reached the bridge a half hour before midnight, and a man carrying a watermelon passed them: "Suddenly the man fell, we heard the thump of the watermelon on wood planks and saw him fallen ... I look down with him and there is the moon on shiny froth and rocks, there is the long eternity we have been seeking."

And here's Boots Mills. Jack'd roll over in his grave if he knew it was being converted into condos. "The mills are a reminder that Lowell is a working-class city, established as a business venture. By harnessing the power of the Merrimack River through a carefully engineered system of mills and canals Lowell quickly became one of the largest centers of textile production in the world. The architecture of the Boott Mills complex mirrors the growth of Lowell--its nine mill buildings were built between 1835 and 1900...When Kerouac mentions any of the Lowell mills in his books it is most often the Boott. In Doctor Sax, the Boott is often seen in "a maze of haze sorrow," where the red chimneys sway in "the dreambell afternoon" or, at night, the windows shine "like a lost star in the blue city lights of Lowell." Kerouac's descriptions of the Boott are often amorphous, and insubstantial, as if the redbrick mills are only clouds in a fiery sunset. It's interesting to match Kerouac's descriptions of the mills with depiction of work in his novels. Kerouac's characters may have jobs, and we may see many people on their way to or from work, but the joy of life lies elsewhere. "Everything belongs to me because I am poor," he wrote in Visions of Cody. "Dicky and I covered these millyards.," he writes in Doctor Sax, "and agreed millwork was horrible."

Which brings us  to Edson Cemetary. You drive under the rusted bridge with the faded sign that says "Welcome to Spaghettiville". Drive past the large St Patricks Cemetary until the point where the road widens. The grave is three streets in (Lincoln) and 5 streets over (between 7th and 8th). Once you are there, you can't miss it.

Then we hooked up with friends for dinner and a show. Jethro Tull was in town but we opted for that Bob guy again.

Glad we did. Seats were much better, very close to the stage. If last night was the best show since 2005, tonight was the best show since last night.

The delivery was even better, though that might have been a condition of our improved seats.

Songs we lost: Shooting Star, Spirit on the Water, Can't Wait, Hard Rain, Workingman's Blues #2

Songs we got for those we lost: It Ain't Me Babe, Love Sick, Simple Twist of Fate, Visions of Johanna, Not Dark Yet

I'd say we got an upgrade.

Tsongas Center
Lowell MA

1. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
2. It Ain't Me, Babe
3. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
4. Love Sick
5. Rollin' And Tumblin'
6. Simple Twist Of Fate
7. Honest With Me
8. Visions Of Johanna
9. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
10. Tangled Up In Blue
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Not Dark Yet
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man
15. Jolene / Band Intro
16. Like A Rolling Stone

Saturday, November 13, 2010

CR Avery
and the Special Interest Group
The Rivoli
Toronto ON

"Sister, tell your Brother, Brother tell your Auntie, Auntie, tell your Uncle,Uncle tell my Cousin, Cousin tell my friend
Goin' up the (Rivoli) Mama, don't you want to go?" BwMcT

Finally a home game in Toronto The Good, Hogtown, Hollywood North, or, my favourite, Dirty Little York.

CR is back in town, pushing his new book of poetry and the DVD he made with Toronto film maker, Michael Levesque.

38 Bar Blues is available online and the DVD, Subtitles For A Foreign Film, should be out in December.

This venue is the shooting location for the two concerts that make up that DVD, it's kinda like home to the krewe I drag around to these shows.

And a second to home to CR, so The Rivoli's packed to capacity. The 'other CR', Toronto's Troubadour Corin Raymond is here. Members of the Toronto Youth Slam are in attendance in the hopes of learning tricks from the Bard of East Van.  Ronna Blume a Toronto area poet who was featured at last weeks Words Aloud. got up to do a Neil Young (sorta) poem, the drummers family, CR's videographer and some old guy who keeps following him around with a pair of mics.

So after 4 attempts I finally get a board. Was hoping to have enough A+ material for a live record but there's time enough in the future to nail that project. What I did get will tide me over the winter.

So what about the show? Well, it was Toronto and the audience was in the mood, so you know the band delivered.

CR Avery vocals, harmonica, keys
Noah Walker guitar
Evan Bates bass
Adam Farnsworth  keys, backing vocals
Kevin Romain drums

Set 1
Track 01 Shirley Dragon
Track 02 Is This What You Wanted?
Track 03 Ice Rinks
Track 04 Neil Young'sSongs Are Really About Cars (reading by w/ Ronna Blume CR on keys)
Track 05 Blackbird
Track 06 Motel 50 Miles Out of Town

Set 2
Track 01 This Disclosure
Track 02 Promiscuous Women
Track 03 Very Sarah Palin/Commercial Drive
Track 04 Honeymoon Is Over
Track 05 talk - 38 Bar Blues plug
Track 06 Dungeon of Love/Love Song
Track 07 Make It Count On Election Day (off board)
Track 08 Dinner For One
Track 09 Pryor/Dylan Rap/ Folk Singer
Track 10 band intro
Track 11 On To Something/Piano Lessons
Track 12 encore break/talk
Track 13 Doll House and Pocket Knife
Track 14 Midnight Gold Mining
Track 15 talk - Subtitles for a Foreign Film plug
Track 16 My Own Road To Go

3 nights that finish at 2 am ...  gruelling
850 kilometers on the road...  time consuming
Hotels, Food and Gas      ...      $400

5 sets of CR Avery in a week ...  priceless

Friday, November 12, 2010

CR Avery
and the Special Interest Group
Carden St Cafe
Guelph ON

It's Remembrance Day and just remember this...war is for the corporations and the entitled. People got no issues with each other requiring that option.

This is the hometown of John McCrae, the poet who penned "In Flanders Fields". Now there's a coincidence you wouldn't come across if you didn't scour Wiki for an interesting tidbit about where you are going.

The Carden Street Cafe is not merely a funky (and cozy) live music venue, it's a decent eatery. Brought the wife out with me tonight for a little, umm, west coast culture in The Royal City, named after the descendents of King George the IV, and, more importantly, the current home of Sleemans Brewery. Guess I won't be quaffing any Stella from the tap tonight. Turns out there's no Sleeman's at this bar either, only Wellington. Family feud probably.

What a difference a couple of days make. While there's some dish crashing distractions because this is an eatery, the crowd was focussed on the artist with only one or two parties catching up on the days activities over the din.

CR has super-sized his set. We get a 40 minute warmup followed by a solid 70 minute closing set. Everything works on the audience. The spoken-word pieces get the silence they deserve.(Piano Lessons, A Few Thousand Words) The raucous songs get the response they require to take them over the top (Dungeon of Love, Dinner for One, Folk Singer). We got a snippet of Love Song tacked onto Dungeon and we got Birdcage wrapped up in On To Something...kapow!

Oh, wait, show ends with Midnight Gold Mining...wham, bam, thanks for coming out.

Set 1
Track 01 Piano Lessons
Track 02 This Disclosure
Track 03 Promiscuous Women
Track 04 Very Sarah Palin
Track 05 talk - art is boring
Track 06 A Few Thousand WordsTrack 07 talk - swag plug
Track 08 Dungeon of Love/Love Song

Set 2
Track 01 Maggies Farm
Track 02 Make It Count On Election Day
Track 03 Goin' To Bed Hungry
Track 04 Dinner For One
Track 05 Dylan-Pryor Rap/Folk Singer
Track 06 On To Something/Birdcage
Track 07 encore break
Track 08 The Marines Lament
Track 09 Band Intro
Track 10 Midnight Gold Mining

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CR Avery
and the Special Interest Group
This Ain't Hollywood
Hamilton ON

We are in the "Ambitious City" of the early 1800's when George Hamilton founded the settlement that was going to unsettle the Iroquois nation once and for all. (Five Nations at the time, could have used that 6th Nation to shore up the defence but it's unsure if the Tuscarora would have tilted the balance.) Later, as industry took over, it was the "Birmingham of Canada" which was cool until they turned on the water hoses in the southern version.

Put the shameful history of our cultural genocide behind and what you have now is "Lunchbucket City", made up of salt-of-the-earth blue-collar workers, soon to be on display at the ROM, next to the dinosaurs.

"Steeltown" has just seen it's workers locked out of the US Steel plant this past week.

"Hammertown" is getting close to puttin' the "Hammer" down.

Well, that's my eulogy and I'm all out of nicknames.

In town to breathe some life into this shut-down-at-sundown city are CR Avery and friends. Dinner at a local Vietnamase eatery, 15 minutes of Roger Marin's set, too much of some other guys set, and not a minute before 11 pm the show starts.

Starts strong too with a punchy Boxer Who Just Returned From London. At this point it seemed like the middling-sized crowd was in the mood. But it was early.

Back in 1980 Iggy Pop taught me something when he walked out on a concert 23 minutes into the set, yelling at the audience, telling them that if they didn't want to rock, well then, neither did he. Shortest show ever! The lesson? The audience often gets what they deserve. Or, from a more positive perspective, the audience is an integral part of making a show great. Without the energy pouring back from the seats it's just a bunch of sweating guys pumping out chords.

This Disclosure, with a hook/melody borrowed from Small Town, is a gender-bending excercise in failed relationships.

CR gives a shout out to the less than 'magazine beautiful' in Promiscuous Women. Sensing the crowd is not yet engaged he first strokes them, telling them they look like a good Tuesday night crowd, then gently admonishes them, letting them know the fate of the show rests in their hands as much as his. He calls out for their help to elevate this set above mediocrity. A slightly better than half-hearted sing-a-long threatens to make this ploy a success.

But this crowd ain't that interested.

Very Sarah Palin starts as a diatribe and ends as an all out rockabilly blast. The band leaves the crowd behind half way through this song. They're gonna have fun and no one can stop 'em.

Dungeon of Love keeps up the pace.

Dinner For One is this tours litmus test. Rude, crude, and I'm guessing someone's tattooed. This is the song that lets the band know if there's life beyond the lights or if dead people really can smoke. (old joke, don't work no more in this new age of smokeless bars) Tonight's response from the girls was, let's say embarrassed, in a giggly way. It's much better when the women howl. The men howled, in a drunken lasvicious manner, which didn't make it any less embarrassing. Great '50's girl group' style to this song, complete with the shoo-be-doo-wops.

CR's still working hard. In a final effort to involve the crowd he brings the show to them, stepping off stage for an unplugged version of his 'Fanfare for the Common Man', Make It Count On Election Day. A tip of the hat goes out to CR's good friend Corin Raymond, who reminds us there will always be a small time as long as they are singing in the parlours. A little down-home country stomp-along for the populist crowd.

Back to the stage for a new rap, the Dylan Meets Pryor intro to a raucous version of Folk Singer.

The night closes with I'm On to Something and the band continues to rock.

Despite a drunken cry for 'one more song' from the one guy who was not paying attention all night, the crowd thinned out and CR was just about to do the same.

You can set 'em up but you can't knock 'em out every night.

Now on a totally unrelated note CR was gracious enough to allow me a soundboard patch of this show, as he did last time we were at This Ain't Hollywood. That time I mentioned to the sound guy that there was no feed to my recorder. He insisted there must be because everything was set as it should be. Until he realized it wasn't, with about 3 songs left in the set. This go round it seemed like all was well, I was getting a good signal, though I did not have headphones on, I was relying on my monitor. Turns out that when he cut the preshow canned music from the PA's he failed to shut it out of the soundboard, so it continues to play over the band. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, I won't get fooled again. Seriously though, shit happens, big thanks to everyone for the effort and the sound inside the venue was pretty good, except for that low hiss, which is what matters.

So these samples are from my audience recording I was capturing simultaneously because I trust no one.

Set List

Boxer Who Just Returned From London
This Disclosure (Small Town Redux)
Promiscuous Women
Very Sarah Palin
Dungeon of Love
Dinner For One
Make It Count On Election Day
Folk Singer
I'm On To Something

Monday, November 08, 2010

CR Avery
and the Special Interest Group
Words Aloud Festival
Durham ON

A special day in the middle of CR's cross Canada full-band tour. Words Aloud
has invited him in for a weekend of concerts and workshops. We caught two unique sets; an afternoon bookstore set and an evening art gallery show.

Four members of the Toronto Youth Slam Team open the afternoon at the Great Books & Cafe at The Mill in Williamsford, a 20 minute drive north of Durham. The kids are alright, perhaps a little old for their age, but that's ok, there's plenty of time left to be younger. My favorite artist ended up 4th out of 4 today, so it shows you there is no accounting for taste, or I know nothing about poetry. All the kids performed well but I was drawn to the rough-edged urban poetry of Skummilk, he took some risks with his material.

What the venue bio doesn't tell you is this bookstore/cafe was a major grow-op in it's previous incarnation, which explains the 4 year renovation. Just a little local history.

This is a 'pay what you can' event for no more than 50 people, counting the one's standing in back and seated on the massive staircase. A very good turnout in this rural community a couple hours away from Toronto.

After an entertaining 3-round slam from the youngun's CR Avery takes the stage for what is one of the best sets I've seen him deliver, and I've seen more than a few good ones. He really takes to these intimate rooms. Using the house piano, one mic and his harmonicas he's got all the tools he needs to win the crowd. And win them over, he does.

You gotta give props to these local arts-community sponsored events. They make it possible for performers like CR to travel across the country and build a mini-tour around the event. People at Cicada Fest, Perth Folk Festival and this Words Aloud program are keeping the spirit of music alive in the face of the crushing mediocrity the major labels and distributors are hoisting on us. Search them out, be a patron, if only by showing up.

CR absolutely nails every song this afternoon. He starts at the piano, quiety, slowly, letting the audience settle into their chairs, atune their ears and focus their attention. When I'm Gone usually closes a set but CR is wasting no time warming up the audience. He's hot, they gotta catch up.

The sign that he really had his mojo working comes in the spoken word Hendrix/Dylan piece that follows. As he's moving through the story at his usual machine-gun pace he stumbles on a single opening word to a line and deftly drops into his 'hip-hop-beat-box-syllable-popping' vocal style and covers up the flub...I'm sure no one noticed. No one else that is. I believe he used it to the same effect in the PET poem that ended the set, the only two times he missed a step.

The audience is enlisted to play the part of orchestra on the lovely piano ballad, Like A Train In The Snow. It's only a mini-set so we can't be waiting until the encore break to reel them in. CR has a handful of terrific ballads (When I'm Gone, Bus To Baton Rouge,Rain Falls On Eternity)and though his press-kit says little about his ability to deliver these songs, they may represent the height of his combined playing,singing and performance skills. 'Course I only think that 'till he rips off a burning blues number like Motel 50 Miles Out of Town.

It's been a long wait, maybe close to 20 shows and a few thousand miles, but CR finally pulls out Down at the Cafe. Perhaps we had to be in a cafe. Perhaps we required the poetry slam to be part of the show...don't know, don't care, just happy to hear it.

Most of the songs are getting a little introduction tonight and CR invokes the spirit of Tom Waits' to shrug off the pressure of selling a million records Stateside in Big In Japan. The audience, once again, takes to his harmonica-beat-box riffs, resonding enthusiastically as sweat begins to pour off our boy on stage.

Come February we'll be watching the next song as part of a Hockey Night In Canada presentation, his homage to Wayne Gretzky and bitch-slap to the American sense of self-importance with Already the Great One.

38 Bar Blues is the new book of poetry, just released and now available online. We get a brief reading of Old Love The Gambler.

In December CR will be in the city of angels to record with a full orchestra. One of the 6 songs on the sked is the story of his outdoor friend, The Kind Man of Alexander Street. Inner city music, save your city music.

A spoken word piece, Pierre Elliott Trudeau closes out the set. This poem continues to morph. CR has injected a line about Diefenbaker's stand on the Bay of Pigs which makes his other claims about Trudeau's willingness to stand up to the US more historically correct. My guess is someone in Alberta made the case for Dief. While CR does use the "just watch me" quote he should add a couple lines about how PET handled the FLQ terror without terrorizing the people, as a leader should.

Here are some sound samples from the afternoon set.

Set List

When I'm Gone
The Grey Armpit of Rock n Roll
Like A Train in the Snow
Down at the Cafe
Big In Japan
Already the Great One
Old Love The Gambler (poem recital)
The Kind Man of Alexander Street
Pierre Elliott Trudeau

The evening set is at the roomier main hall of the Durham Art Gallery and CR has his band, The Special Interest Group, along for the unplugged session. Road veterans Noah Walker (guitar) and Evan Bates (bass) are joined by two newcomers Adam Farnsworth on keys and Kevin Romain on drums. Hope the boys are enjoying their initiation to life on the road with a circus.

Only one song repeated in the evening set, PET, and it was by request of the organizers. It got a slightly different treatment with jazz accompianament(sp?)to spice it up a touch. Gave it a finger-snapping beat-edge.

Two classic covers to open, both changed almost beyond recognition, updating the words of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

He follows with a great version of Ice Rinks that builds in intensity and explodes at the end, complete with a little Salt n Peppa.
Blackbird gets the CR treatment then we get some new songs.

Sound samples below.

Set List

Is This What You Wanted?
Maggies Farm
Ice Rinks
Make It Count On Election Day
I Know I'm On to Something (I Just Don't Know What)
A Few Thousand Words
I'm Gonna Eat You Out
Pierre Eliot Trudeau
My Own Road To Go

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Gord Downie
Queen Elizabeth Theatre

OK, I'm thinking this concert is a sign that I try too hard to find shows. Nothing against Gord Downie , he's a consumate's just do I really have the time to start up an interest in his solo work? November was looking like a light month when I booked this show but now I've got 5 shows in 8 nights then a trip to Massachusetts in late November to catch a couple Dylan shows. It wasn't easy dragging my work-weary ass out of the house on this cold winter night.

Bonus fries right off the top - Gord is his own opening act. A quick 40 minute set was followed by a brief intermission and an hour and forty minute set to close.

He's doing a unique art show with his songs. On stage he has an overhead projector from your grade 5 math class. Using cut-out shapes of thin acetate, a pyrex bowl (one without Pyrex imbedded on the bottom, no product placement here) and assorted liquids and water colours. To introduce the songs he builds a scene from these assorted pieces, layering the cut-outs, then using the pyrex and liquid to bring scenes to life. It really was pretty good. We had a lighthouse against a dark ocean, the twin towers aflame complete with plane, assorted moonlight scenes with flying birds, geese in fact, and too many others to remember without a camera.

While this was something new, bordering on interesting, it was an anchor to the pace of the show. The silence was filled by assorted Hip-heads thinking it was a license to have a conversation with Gord. Any chatter coming from Gord, or introduction to the upcoming song, was off-mike and hard to pick up in this lovely, but too large, room.

Set 1
Track 01 ?The Myth
Track 02 The Dance and It's Disappearance
Track 03 Moon Over Glenora
Track 04 Yellow Days
Track 05 The Hard Canadian
Track 06 talk w/ projector art
Track 07 Night Is For Getting
Track 08 audience chatter/song intro
Track 09 Trick Rider
Track 10 Canada Geese
Set 2

Track 11 The East Wind
Track 12 Vancouver Divorce
Track 13 Christmas Time In Toronto
Track 01 Gone
Track 02 11th Fret
Track 03 The Drowning Machine
Track 04 Steeplechase
Track 05 Figment
Track 06 Yer Possessed
Track 07 outro/encore break
Track 08 ?What You Gonna Do About It?
Track 09 Broadcast
Track 10 Going Going Gone
Track 11 Chancellor
Track 12 Insomniacs of the World, Good Night

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

CR Avery Does Ontario
Various Venues
Durham, Hamilton,Guelph and Toronto
November 2010

Back with a full band, a new book of poetry and a DVD, CR Avery is storming across the country and spending a little time in our nape of the woods, er, neck of the way, ummm, how come he's here?

It's the Rock N Roll Bandit tour with some spoken word tossed in for the thinkin' crowd.

Check out the dates!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Midnight Ramble
starring Levon Helm
w/ guest Steve Earle

Third Ramble at the Barn, 4th in total, at some point I should be having my fill, you'd think. The Midnight Ramble won't be around forever and when it's gone I'm betting there won't be anything to replace it. This is mostly a nostalgia trip but there's something life affirming about paying homage to good times past, while creating new good times.

Out of Toronto on the Friday afternoon of a long weekend on both sides of the border. (We Canadians are celebrating our compact with the First Nations, Thanksgiving, while the Americans are celebrating the beginning of the end for those First Nations, Columbus Day. Ironic, eh?) The night drive to Binghamton NY allows us to spend the full day seeing sights, which start at Yazgur's Farm, now the Bethel Woods Center site.

This was another 'beginning of the end'; as the 60's closed the counter-culture was having it's last group grope in the mud. It was a much nicer day as I look over the field where the multitudes assembled.

We have breakfast in nearby Monticello at Tilley's Diner with our good friend, and neighbourhood guide, JS.

A mid-day stroll around Woodstock for photos is followed by a trip to the Woodstock Cemetary to visit Rick Danko's last resting place.

From here we're off to visit his old stomping grounds, Big Pink.

We hook up with our friend JS at Joshua's Restaurant on Tinker St where the Apple-Burnt Butternut Squash soup was the star attraction. After dinner it's time to make our way to the barn.

Steve Earle definitely made the show tonight. Opened with Copperhead Road...BANG...take that. Jerusalem was in there too and i wish i was more familiar with his catalogue so I could tell you what he played but it all sounded great.

He's doing a record with T Bone Burnett and will be touring with his new band, The Dukes, early next year, we were told. The bass player (since 1988) and drummer (since 1999) were the oldtimers. Besides the guitar playing kid and the fiddler girl he had his new wife on the keys. He did a full set (8-10 songs) as the opener and came back for 3 songs near the end of Levon's set.

My wife pointed out to me Steve's little interjection at the end of The Mountain...."don't let them FRACK in these mountains". There's a huge controversy in the area about the mining method, fracking, which threatens the water tables.

During the set he spoke of a recent lawsuit he was involved in, one that would see him making money as it had to do with royalties due for songs he'd written. Trouble was he had to tell them when and where they were composed and his memory ain't too reliable when you get past 16 years ago. (sober 16 years now he proudly tells us.)

After his set I was downstairs when Steve came out with his new baby (about 3-4 months old) carrying him out in a car seat. Nice looking kid, was sleeping. Steve was calling out to his wife to start the car and warm it up. He's recently moved into the area, we think, as Levon called him their new neighbor.

As for the main set:

Larry Campbell is almost ready to tour on his own. he was awesome. his guitar playing is what it always was...terrific. his vocals are getting better and he's really got an emerging stage prescence.

Levon wasn't in as great shape. He did maybe two songs (Ophelia, and the maybe is because I can't name another complete song) and verses of Blind Willie McTell and The Weight (which had Steve Earle doing the opening verse) and lent harmonies on the chorus to some other songs.

If you can do it once, you should.

Observations from my friend JS :

Levon did a "call and response" on "I Want to Know" - he called, Larry, Teresa & Co. responded. His voice was frailer when he spoke than when he sang, but it was clearly in need of rest. The evening was really great. The Levon portion of the show has become much more "professional" since I last saw it; the arrangements, set-list, staging are much more of a show and probably a reflection of taking it on the road for performance in more conventional venues. The musicianship was superb - horn section (4 brass strong); 2 keyboardists - organ and piano (and accordion); huge acoustic bass; 2 guitars (Larry and Jimmy Weider- the Band's last guitarist. Levon was on drums throughout (he did one song on mandolin) and played well - no flagging there. The whole thing struck me afterwards as kind of Levon's version of "Theme Time Radio Hour" - an anthology, of sorts, of the music that formed him; it covered quite a wide spectrum - from blues and ballads to dixieland and gospel. The Band songs were moving - mini-anthologies in themselves, they've now taken their place in the Great Songbook of Americana and stand next to the likes of "Deep Ellum Blues" with a total sense of aptness. The whole segment was quite moving - and long! They played till 12:30 am. Steve Earle was really excellent, too - I began to appreciate his song-craft and his voice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

CR Avery
The Undesirables
The Cameron House
CR Avery
The Boathouse
Kitchener ON

CR is back in the Toronto area almost promoting the delayed release of his rumoured book of poetry, 38 Bar Blues, which should be available from Write Bloody Publishing any day now. He'll be back in November with a full-band tour that promises to be rocking.

Booked for two shows in Kingston ON at the Kingstons Writers Festival this weekend, he flew out early to lay a few tricks on us in London, Toronto, St Catharines and Kitchener. During his downtime he's working on the final edits for his upcoming live concert DVD, Subtitles for a Foreign Film, set for release in October.

Tonight he's opening for story-teller extraordinaire, Corin Raymond and his excellent guitar-picking puppetmaster, Sean Cotton; The Undesirables. The backroom of The Cameron House is cozy. Seats about 30, stands another 30, it gets hot quick. A three-shirt night is in store, I'm told. Also, ladies, don't ever buy a ticket for a backroom gig. The womens washroom is at the back of the room and you have free access from the front of the bar...just tell 'em you had some yogurt induced issues and stay awhile.

Some new songs from CR tonight, 3 in all, with the Neil cover of Campaigner and two originals, one a spoken word piece about Ice Rinks the other a piano ballad, My Own Road To Go. He starts a little slow, taking a few tunes before he can shake tax issues from his worried mind. When he starts feeding off Corin's laughter from side-stage the set turns.

Track 01 Intro
Track 02 Campaigner (Neil Young)
Track 03 Big In Japan (Tom Waits)
Track 04 The Marines Lament (3 months in hell)
Track 05 Ice Rinks Track 06 talk
Track 07 I'm Gonna Eat You Out
Track 08 Love Song
Track 09 My Own Road To Go
Track 10 Blackbird (Lennon/McCartney)
The Undesirables are playing some new tunes as well, showcasing their new release, Cancer Shoes. They are warming up for a weekend of special guests and concerts on the First of October. Locate Corin on facebook for extensive details and get ready to do the (GO) Bus Stop Walk.

Track 01 Intro
Track 02 ?Ooh, Summer's Gone
Track 03 You're Gonna Find Out
Track 04 Good News
Track 05 Cancer Shoes
Track 06 Umbrella Girl
Track 07 Look Out Jack
Track 08 story - singing bones
Track 09 Singing Bones
Track 10 talk - Ferraro's bleedthrough
Track 11 Waitin' On A Later Train
Track 12 Dancin' on the Fault Line
Track 13 It's A Sunny Day
Track 14 encore break
Track 15 Rain Song(w/ CR Avery)
Track 16 When I'm Gone (w/ CR Avery)

The Boat House

It's early morning on hump-day, it's raining and it's dark. Think a round of CR will charge the batteries. Another opening set tonight, which is good, 'cause home's about an hour and a half away and work don't care that I like live music. Or so I thought. As we arrive at the bar CR informs us he's the headliner...and that's good for us too.  Nice little venue in the heart of Kitchener on the shores of Victoria Park Lake. Great locale, with lots of park land and what appears to be a man-made lake ringed with benches and picnic tables. This must be one happening place with walk up business on the summer weekends. 'Course, summers gone and it ain't a weekend so the place is sparsely populated for the opening set by Blair Harvey.

Decent stuff, easy on the ears. The kid has a terrific voice, similar in sound to Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo. Some interesting flair on the guitar with a unique strumming pattern that simulates a snare drum sound while he's playing major chords.

By the time CR's set is underway we have about 20 drinking customers in the place. 18 are attentively focussed on the stage. 2 are not. CR tried his best to shame them into shutting the fuck up, first a full-frontal insulting attack in  Leadbelly's Sylvie then a gentle poke inside a couplet at the beginning of The Boxer Who Just Returned from London that just washed over their self-absorbed little heads. This couple of guys, seated no more than 6 inches from each other, felt they had to talk over whatever din was emanating from the stage. At least 2 different groups in the audience asked them nicely to quiet down, take it outside or get a room. Unfortunately the owners didn't give a shit either as they were almost as loud, saying only, it's a bar, people talk. Point taken, there was no cover charge. However if you hope to attract people into your bar to listen to live music you would think that an atmosphere conducive to that pasttime would be encouraged. There was no way apparent to shut these guys up so CR did the next best thing; cut his set short at a 1/2 hour for a 20 minute break, hoping to let them run out of steam.

It worked, as well as you could hope. Blair gets another 3 songs in front of a half-packed and fully baked house. The alpha-male in our couple leaves. Silence returns as Talker-the-Lesser is on his own. CR comes back for a 45 minute second set that won over the remaining faithful, most notably the 2 cuties in the front row who alternately blushed and laughed through the dirty blues ballad, I'm Gonna Eat You Out. The night closes with a steller performance of Tightrope, sans the tightrope refrain, as CR hits his mark late in the night.

Set 1
Track 01 Intro
Track 02 Campaigner (Neil Young)
Track 03 Sylvie (Leadbelly)

Track 04 talking assholes talk
Track 05 The Boxer Who Just Returned From London
Track 06 I'm A Dairy Cow, Baby

Track 07 Blind Willie McTell (Bob Dylan)

Set 2
Track 08 Star of Bethlehem (Neil Young)
Track 09 Hendix/Dylan
Track 10 The Great One
Track 11 Voodoo Child (Jimi Hendrix)
Track 12 I`m Gonna Eat You Out

Track 13 Tightrope

Disregard the date on that poorly edited photoshop poster. He's in Ottawa on the Saturday the 13th and at the Rivoli on Friday the 12th.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wanda Jackson
Cosmic Charlies
Lexington KY

Missed my chance to see Wanda Jackson in Toronto this year while I was taking my 100 year old grandmother and her 6 children to their hometown for a party! So when I saw a chance to catch a show and visit some friends in Lexington...well, like my grandma, it don't take much to convince me to get in the car for a road trip.

Wanda Jackson
Cosmic Charlies
Lexington KY

Track 01 Instrumental Intro
Track 02 Mean Mean Man
Track 03 Rock Your Baby
Track 04 Hard Headed Woman
Track 05 talk
Track 06 I Gotta Know
Track 07 talk
Track 08 Lets Play House
Track 09 Heartbreak Hotel
Track 10 talk
Track 11 I'm No Good
Track 12 Shakin' All Over
Track 13 talk
Track 14 Fujiyama Mama
Track 15 Funnel of Love
Track 16 Right or Wrong
Track 17 Cell Block #9
Track 18 talk
Track 19 I Saw the Light
Track 20 Let's Have A Party
Track 21 Whole Lotta Shakin'/Rip It Up/Let's Have A Party

Monday, September 13, 2010

Billy Bragg
The Ark
Ann Arbor, MI

It's a strange world where a Canadian has to cross into the US to get his yearly dose of righteous leftist indignation. For reasons beyond comprehension Billy has opted to bypass the True North Strong and Free this year and focus on the Land of the Afraid, er, make that Brave.

Gives us a chance to hook up with a like-minded Stateside friend and introduce her to Britain's Phil Ochs...that is, without the self-destructive tendencies and bitter cynicism that led Phil to a downward spiral. (As a side-note could you imagine if Phil was alive during the 8 years of the Bush ascendancy? He would have been apoplectic.)

Ann Arbor is a lovely town in the fall. Easy to stroll, lots for the eyes to feast on. The kids at the University are just back in residence and the streets are filled with people getting that last bit of summer. Michigan is coming from behind to defeat Notre Dame 28-24 as we stand in line. The Ark is a mecca. Unfortunately it rained all day so we couldn't experience much of that.

Did manage to run into Billy on the street just before the show. Stopped him to give thanks for introducing me to CR Avery back in 2008 and for playing a superb rendition of John Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chicken Town to the tune of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row back at The Phoenix in 2009. Mentioned my plans to make it over to the UK in the spring of next year if I can find JCC and John Otway playing dates the same week. He mentioned he'd gigged with both of them, simultaneously even. Now if Billy were playing when I was there he'd be a natural to see, but him I can see anywhere, the others, not so much. He pulled out his iPhone to show me a pic of his young son with JCC.

At this point I felt like the character in Jack White's Take Take Take...that was all that I wanted. Except I wanted more. I asked Billy if I could impose on him for an autograph, on my copy of his debut, indy EP, Life's A Riot w/ Spy Vs. Spy, the import, which I've been carrying around for a good many years. This guy is nothing if not magnanimous and he followed me into the restaurant where my wife and friend were wrapping up dinner. "Look who I found!" I announce.

Billy's still lightly touring Mr Love and Justice, but also playing a few new songs from his recent stage production. He's had a busy year with the election and all, slaying the BNP in his home riding.

Lots of talking tonight, the show ran over 2 hours. Billy got caught up in a rambling story about signing 3 posters "To The Lion's Den", then later discovering, while driving down I94, that was an porn movie store.

But he played some songs too;

Billy Bragg
The Ark
Ann Arbor, MI

Disc 1

Track 01 The World Turned Upside Down
Track 02 To Have Or To Have Not
Track 02a talk
Track 03 The Price I Pay
Track 04 Greeting to the New Brunette
Track 05 talk
Track 06 Tomorrow's Gonna Be A Better Day
Track 07 talk
Track 08 I Ain't Got No Home
Track 09 Sexuality
Track 10 talk
Track 11 Everywhere
Track 12 The Unwelcome Guest
Track 13 talk
Track 14 The Fourteenth of February
Track 15 talk
Track 16 There Will Be A Reckoning
Track 17 talk
Track 18 Tank Park Salute
Track 19 talk

Disc 2

Track 01 NPWA
Track 02 Levi Stubbs Tears
Track 03 talk
Track 04 I Keep Faith
Track 05 Power In A Union
Track 06 encore break/talk
Track 07 Ode To Joy
Track 08 talk
Track 09 The Milkman of Human Kindness
Track 10 A New England

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Specials
Sound Academy
August 27-28, 2010

So nice you got to see it twice.
Or so rare you gotta do a pair.

The Specials cancelled back in April and I caught a major break.
My tickets were in hand and plans were in place to see that springtime outing but I was forced to modify my travel dates for New Orleans which caused me to be out of the country on April 19.

Then I traded in a bit of my banked-Karma and one of the band members got sick.

Sorry 'bout that.

To make it up to us they booked an extra "thank you" show, and being forever grateful, I figured it's a nice weekend, let's play two.

They are coming off a very busy summer of festivals in Europe...14 or more and these two final dates in Toronto look to be the 'wind-down' for their 30th Anniversary tour which started with sell-out shows in England last fall.

Never have I seen so many people, packed so tightly, dancing up a storm, without any undo aggressive behaviour. It was like 'family friendly skank' nite. Unfortunately the cutie in front of me decided to profer an unrequested lap dance on me...unfortunate because she was whining and grinding (er, wrong band) against my recording rig and she flipped the gain from +10 to +30 causing me to lose 7 songs, Friday Night/Saturday Morning among them. Oh, well, there's another date.

And that date was even better, if it could be. Second night we get the same enthusiasm, friendly, fun-loving crowd and another sweat-fest. A little less crowded tonight, which was nice.

The encore sees an extra song, the rare Guns of Navarone. The only difference from the previous night.

The Specials
Sound Academy
Toronto ON

Track 01 Intro
Track 02 Do the Dog
Track 03 (Dawning of A) New Era
Track 04 Gangster
Track 05 It's Up To You
Track 06 Monkey Man
Track 07 Rat Race
Track 08 Poor Little Rich Girl
Track 09 Blank Expression
Track 10 Doesn't Make it Alright
Track 11 Stupid Marriage
Track 12 Concrete Jungle
Track 13 Friday Night, Saturday Morning
Track 14 Stereotypes (Part 1 &2)
Track 15 Man at C & A

Disc 2
Track 01 Message To You Rudy
Track 02 Do Nothing
Track 03 Little Bitch
Track 04 Nite Club
Track 05 Too Much Too Young
Track 06 Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)
Track 07 encore break
Track 08 Ghost Town
Track 09 second encore break
Track 10 Guns of Navarone
Track 11 You're Wondering Now

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Casino Rama

OK, I know this one's going to look a little out of place when you browse through the shows I've seen over the past few years. Closest I came to '70's power-rock would have been Alice Cooper. I was offered a pair of tickets to this show by a generous benefactor in Chicago. Apparently a big fan of Heart (and Def Leppard too if I remember last years offer.) I'm reluctant to be a gun-for-hire, it seems so mercenary and so much can go wrong. But it can be seen as a service too, and if you want it, come and get it.

What I do get out of it is a night out and the chance to drop a few hundred in the casino. (FTR, I was down $140 at the roulette table when I went 'all in' with my last $25. Won big, got to play another half hour, left a $25 tip for the croupier and was only down $15.)

Ann and Nancy can still kick some rock'n'roll ass. It's a small group of women who have been able to hold their own in the male-dominated group category. Joan Jett comes to mind. Chrissy Hynde, even with the testosterone laden band. Patti Smith. This is not fluff and the ladies are not poseurs. They've been on a massive year long tour that started late in January and runs through to the end of September. Impressive, as the girls start to celebrate b'days in the more advanced range.

They are on the road a month ahead of the release of their first album in 6 years, Red Velvet Car. They debuted some tracks at Seattle's EMP this spring.

An excellent show. Ann's voice is really something and I'd argue she has more skill now than she did 30 years ago. Songs like Magic Man and Crazy on You are improved. Her inflection hints at a wealth of life experience she didn't have when she first sang these songs. There were a lot of highlights but if you want a short list; Alone and Crazy on You. Virtuoso performances.

On a side note it was refreshing to see women give women standing ovation after standing ovation, a real celebration of talent and survival.

Disc 1

Track 01 Cook With Fire (Dog and Butterfly, 1978)
Track 02 Heartless (Magazine, 1978)
Track 03 Never
Track 04 Straight On (Dog and Butterfly, 1978)
Track 05 Dog and Butterfly (Dog and Butterfly, 1978)
Track 06 These Dreams (Heart, 1985)
Track 07 Hey You (Red Velvet Car, 2011)
Track 08 Even It Up/Gimme Shelter (Bebe Le Strange, 1980)
Track 09 Red Velvet Car (Red Velvet Car, 2011)
Track 10 In the Cool
Track 11 Alone (Bad Animals, 1987)
Track 12 WTF (Red Velvet Car, 2011)

Disc 2

Track 01 Magic Man (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
Track 02 Crazy On You (Dreamboat Annie, 1976)
Track 03 Barracuda (Little Queen, 1977)
Track 04 encore break/band intro
Track 05 What Is And What Never Should Be
Track 06 What About Love (Heart, 1985)