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January 2012

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Jan. 26th, 2012

Aaron icon

Leaving LJ

Keepsmealive loves you. We love you so much, we built a nice new home to share with you. It is here. Keepsmealive.com redirects there now too (though it may take up to 48 hours for that to work on your end).
We have moved because LJ wouldn't let Aaron post. Which would seem to be the point of having a blog, n'est-ce pas? And their help section did not respond to four requests. So. We could joke about LJ and Frank The Goat's balls, but we won't. We take the high road, around here. That your mind filled in the blanks has nothing to do with us.
See you on a web site that works!

Jan. 2nd, 2012

Canuck!

SLCR 164 - Stuart McLean - December 6, 2011

The best way I can explain Stuart McLean to my American friends is to say that he's similar to Garrison Keillor. Unfortunately, I've never actually heard any Garrison Keillor, so maybe I'm very wrong. One sentence in and I may have just corrupted this review for an entire nation. Please don't make me explain Stuart McLean to Azerbaijanis.

Stuart McLean hosts a radio show called The Vinyl Cafe where he tells humourous, heartwarming, folksy stories, usually about one specific family. I looked it up and the family's last name has never actually been said, which would have been helpful to know before I started that last sentence. I was going to say "about the _______ family" but had to abruptly change course. It reads a bit awkward now. Anyway, McLean criss-crosses Canada, telling stories and hosting musical guests at live shows recorded for the CBC. Every December, he embarks on a special Christmas-themed tour. I've always liked his stories and wanted to go to one of these shows. When I found out that Hawksley Workman would be this year's musical guest, I wasn't about to pass it up.

McLean took the stage with no fanfare to surprise us with the news that the Regina show was the one Christmas show that would be recorded for play on the CBC. Of course, he encouraged loud crowd reactions for the recording, and he got them. In fact, some folks were only too eager to participate. It should be no surprise that the audience for a CBC storytelling show would skew old, but you can still get those people to make some noise. In fact, on two separate occasions, McLean merely had to say "Dave cooked the turkey" to get people hooting like when the lead singer at a rock concert says the name of the city he's in.

At our show, McLean's first two stories were about Sam bringing home the class ferret, and Dave taking their neighbour's car through the car wash. You've either heard these stories already or, more likely, this last sentence meant nothing to you. I've done reviews of spoken-word gigs before and I really don't like to go into the details of what was said - they're not my stories to tell. I've had too many movies ruined for me because someone felt the need to tell me all the good parts beforehand. I mean, I don't imagine anyone will ever read this and be inspired to track down the full stories, but there's always a chance, you know?

Having said that, I do know that keeping the details to myself makes those stories sound pretty dull. I suppose this is a review, allegedly, so I should review the stories. The car wash one was funnier. There.

Neither of these stories were really ABOUT Christmas, unlike the evening's third story; a tale of Dave's childhood and the hockey game he wanted for Christmas one year. It and the Story Exchange story (where McLean reads a story sent in by a listener) made it onto the final radio broadcast.

Before the show, McLean pointed out that since they were taping this show, he might have to re-read a few lines if something got flubbed. There was one spectacular point where he producer rushed the stage to let him know that Dave's age accidentally changed by several years. I'm a little sad this didn't make it into the final airing.

Through the night, the stories were interspersed with songs by Hawksley Workman. I knew from previous Christmas radio shows that we weren't likely to get a lot of Hawksley throughout the evening, and indeed, he only sang a handful of songs. They were all off his Christmas album, Almost A Full Moon, so that was neat - I've never heard most of those songs played live before. I know we got the title track and Three Generations - those made it into the radio broadcast - and he also played Common Cold. I think there was a fourth and I think it was First Snow Of The Year, but I'm not 100% certain there.

Hawksley opened up by telling a long story about his grandmother, whom he was very close to. He's a very entertaining storyteller - mayhaps he can take over for Stuart McLean someday - but I think the funny stories may have confused the audience. I know he can be an oddball when he wants to be, but the crowd sure seemed to like to laugh during his songs at parts that weren't funny. "LOL," said the senior citizens, "he's listing soup ingredients!"

Along with everything else, there was a 12 Days of Christmas segment which felt a bit long to me and was probably the weakest part of the evening, in my opinion. We got a Christmas carol medley by the pianist - spoiler: everyone loves A Charlie Brown Christmas - and McLean also spent time giving away books and CDs to the youngest and oldest folks in the audience. Some of the kids were really cute. Maybe some of the old folks were too? I mean, I didn't see them, but it would be rude to assume otherwise.

Going to the show was the first Christmassy thing I did this year, and I can see why people would make this a tradition. It was a lighthearted evening of music and family and all of those good Christmas things. The broadcast version of the show is available free on iTunes under Vinyl Cafe in the CBC podcasts. It's missing a fair bit from the two-and-a-half-hour show that we got, but it hits the highlights - you should go check it out, just in time for... January. I really need to get on these things sooner.

Upcoming shows:
 - February 4: Norm Macdonald which I probably won't write a review for
 - March 14: Electric Six
 - March 28: John K. Samson w/Shotgun Jimmie
 - August 10-12: Regina Folk Festival

Jan. 1st, 2012

Canuck!

SLCR #163: The Tea Party (November 22, 2011)

You need to know two things about The Tea Party:

1)- I saw them in concert at the campus bar on Halloween 15 years ago. There was a girl there in a Jeannie costume (as in "I Dream Of...") and that remains one of the highlights of my concert-going history.

2)- They own teaparty.com which means that they're essentially instant millionaires if they sell now, and the internet tells me that they're going to. Does that mean we can rule out "for the money" if I wonder why they're back together after a lengthy hiatus?

You also need to know that I didn't feel like going to this show. I often don't; I buy tickets well in advance, and then the day rolls around, and then I think that maybe laying around doing nothing would be pretty good too. It is my area of expertise and I like what I know. But this time, I had never had any interest in going. Mika wanted to see them and I was pretty much just along for the ride. She paid, so I was fine with this.

The opener was The Reason, a band I'd never heard of. We showed up after they were already done. I will assume they were great and will go on to immediate massive fame and will never come back here. I make this joke every time I miss the opening act, I think. And I think I make this observation every time as well.

Given that I wasn't too gung-ho about the show in the first place, we really timed our arrival perfectly. We walked in, took our spots at the back of a massive wall of people, and the Tea Party took the stage about five minutes later. I wish I wrote this review the day after the show instead of six weeks after, so I could document exactly what time we got there. It would be quite the handy time to know.

The wall of people did surprise me. I am not exaggerating when I said that I last saw The Tea Party 15 years ago, and I really don't know what they've done since then. I know there was a lengthy breakup somewhere along the line. I'd ask Mika for details but she's playing LA Noire, and I'd search the internet except I don't really care. As far as I was concerned, they put out one CD that I listened to somewhere around 1996 (The Edges of Twilight - I had to look it up), followed it up with a few more albums that I never bothered with, and then I forgot about them entirely. I figured that's how it was for everyone else too; I forget sometimes that the whole world doesn't consist solely of things that I see and know about. There was an entire sold-out club full of people who hadn't forgotten about The Tea Party.

And these people were drunk. My goodness. It has been a long time since I have been around that many people who were that drunk and that loud. There was shouting, shoving, stumbling, and presumably a wide range of other S-words. I am not opposed to the drink, but if I'm driving, I'm not going to be drinking. And like everyone, my tolerance for drunks depends entirely on my own state. This is a roundabout way of saying that I wanted to stab a whole lot of people by the time the night was over.

Anyway, the show. I wouldn't say The Tea Party was the best show I saw all year, but it might have been the one that most exceeded my expectations. Granted, I'd set the bar pretty low, but as much as I hate surprises, I do like being pleasantly surprised.

The first half of the show was pretty much straight-up rock, which I wouldn't have guessed. Back when I half-heartedly followed the band, they had the reputation for being pretentious. The band was known for incorporating Middle Eastern influences into their music, and lead singer Jeff Martin seemed to fancy himself a Jim Morrison type. But there really wasn't much of that at this show. The band seemed almost laid-back, with Martin chatting amiably with the crowd. The second half of the show did feature more of the old songs that I knew, which was nice, but those songs did kinda drag on compared to the newer ones. At least to me; Mika liked the older stuff better.

Also, there was a theremin somewhere in here, which was neat.

We left shortly into the encore. Being old, I was fine with this, but I would also have been fine with sticking it out to the bitter end. I have to score this as quite the victory for The Tea Party, since I was ready to leave pretty much as soon as I got there.

Dec. 18th, 2011

Vinyl Siding

Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue

[Columbia Legacy 88697680571-S1 1959/2010]
[HQ 180 gram heavyweight audiophile vinyl]

This record was a gift from my wife, knowing that we both absolutely love every note contained within these grooves. The 180 gram vinyl sounds phenomenal, even on my basic stereo system. 

What could I tell you about this Deserted Island Top 10 List, One Of The Best-Ever Jazz Records disc that you don't already know? I just love it. Love it, love it, love it.

Here:

Miles Davis, Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley, Paul Chambers, James Cobb, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly.

SIDE A

So What
Freddie Freeloader
Blue In Green

SIDE B

All Blues
Flamenco Sketches

That is all.

Dec. 12th, 2011

Canuck!

SLCR #162: Big Sugar (November 2, 2011)

These guys. My goodness.

Many years ago - all the way back in SLCR #8 - I saw Big Sugar and they were way too loud for the venue. Alternate (and equally possible) history: I was a giant wimp. My ears hurt for three days after the show, and I wrote what would prove to be the most negative concert review in my long and storied history. "Mediocre music at head-flattening decibels," I said. "The lead singer was a real prick," I said. "The most annoying band in Canadian music history."

Okay, even acknowledging that it was written in an innocent, pre-Bieber era, that last one was ridiculously ridiculous. I was just in a bad mood. Regardless, one day's surly opinion was on the internet forever, and it proved to be very controversial. I got upwards of TWO negative emails from random web surfing Big Sugar fans. Sadly, all I saved for the ages was an exchange with Sexy Studmuffin (s_studmuffin@hotmail.com), who - in between telling me about the sex that he has with ladies - said "Big Sugar is the only reason I ever read your boring web-hole. Don’t come to a Big Sugar show. WE DON’T WANT YOU THERE!"

Since he was kind enough to give me the gift of a wonderful quote I can put on the back of the concert review collection book that I will never actually put together, I assured him I would never go back to a Big Sugar show. And 14 years later, I went back on my word. I hope he can forgive me.

See, I never really hated those guys. I liked some songs of theirs before the concert, and I liked some of their newer songs after that night. It was just wrong show, wrong night, and while it left me with a bad impression, I really wondered what it would be like to see them again. They split up for some time, but when the inevitable reunion tour brought them to the casino, I knew I had to go. And I bought earplugs within minutes of ordering the tickets online. Not that I needed to - when the server brought us our drinks before she show, she warned us that it was going to be loud and earplugs were available at the merchandise table. I never went and looked, but if they were actual Big Sugar-branded earplugs, I'm a little sorry I didn't buy any.

The first time I saw Big Sugar was also my first time seeing Big Rude Jake, which made the whole evening a net positive no matter how much my ears hurt. This time, our opener took us all the way back to SLCR #7 and Wide Mouth Mason. Like Big Rude Jake, they became an instant favourite from the first time I saw them. Opening for Big Sugar would mark the eighth time I've seen them, and the first show since bassist Earl Pereira left the band, only to be replaced by... Big Sugar's Gordie Johnson. Convenient, that.

This is the part where I'd like to talk about how much I enjoyed Wide Mouth Mason's set. Instead, it's the part where I get to talk about how it was the weakest Wide Mouth Mason show I've ever seen and was enough to make me think that I'd skip them next time they're in town. And I'm not willing to pin all the blame on Gordie, either.

I knew we were in trouble when I listened to No Bad Days, the newest Wide Mouth Mason album. Actually, I knew it even before that, when I saw the album artwork - a top contender for the worst I've ever seen. I haven't had any luck finding a decent high-resolution copy online (haven't looked real hard, either), but Gordie and drummer Safwan Javed are shooting lasers out of their eyes at photoshopped graffiti. Meanwhile, if lead singer Shaun Verrault murdered the person who did... THAT to his hair, no jury would convict him. The only acceptable excuse for that hair is if you're wrestling on the Superstation and you want a blade job to show up well on camera.

Setting aside the aesthetics, I didn't care for the sound of the album either. It seemed like they'd given up on writing interesting songs and instead figured they could say anything as long as they tried to play all funky-like. I understand that, but it's not my thing. "I dare anyone to tell us it's not the best record we've ever made," said Verrault from the stage. Well, I'm here to tell you that... I pussed out entirely. I mean, I have no interest in starting a fight with the guy, you know? Instead, I'll hide behind the internet and say that No Bad Days wasn't all that good. That'll show him.

I will say that live, I enjoyed the new songs better than the old ones. I had no expectations for the new songs. The old songs, though, the ones I know and like, they were off. They all felt like they were being played too slowly, and not in a "stylistic choice" sort of way. Verrault, in particular, seemed a lot more interested in making guitar solo faces and poses than actually playing. So that was disappointing.

One brief intermission and I popped my earplugs in. Big Sugar (including Verrault and Javed) took the stage and launched into their first song. It sounded pretty good! Tentatively, I removed an earplug, and...

When I was a little kid, I saw a horror/suspense movie on Superchannel called Visiting Hours. It scared the tar out of me, so my dad liked to torment me by putting the movie on, or even just telling me that it was about to come on. About 25 years later, I saw that the movie was playing on TV. I had to tape it! I knew that it wouldn't be the same as it was when I was 8 (or thereabouts), but I had to watch it and see if it was even remotely scary to adult me. And I had my answer as soon as the opening credits made it to "also starring William Shatner." And this is as close as I can come to explaining the feeling I had when I took my earplugs out. All that fuss for THIS? It was pretty loud for a casino show, but that's not saying too much. But I suppose the band's lineup is different, they've all aged, and the casino probably doesn't lend itself well to playing as loud as you possibly can. At any rate, secure in the knowledge that my ears would be just fine, I left my earplugs out for the duration of the show. 

It was an odd mix of people on stage. I looked over my old review, and I don't remember Gordie Johnson looking quite so much like a cross between Willie Nelson and Silent Bob. And I definitely don't remember the white guy with the dreadlocks singing in the faux-Jamaican accent. I don't know how I feel about this guy. I mean, he seemed really happy and I'm sure he's a nice guy. But to quote this weekend's Saturday Night Live (I knew writing this review two months late would pay off), "if there's such a thing as a loving form of racism, I think you've found it."

But having said all that, I thought Big Sugar was pretty decent. They played most of their hits and a selection of their new songs (I wonder if I can make a macro that will insert that sentence into every concert review I ever write) and I really don't feel like nitpicking any more than I already have. I enjoyed all the songs, the band is obviously very talented, and the crowd loved them. And they even brought their (pre-encore) broadcast day to a close with a rendition of O Canada, which was a nice touch. So yeah, me and Big Sugar, I think we're cool now. Not so sure that Wide Mouth Mason will feel the same, though.

James icon

SLCR #161 - Arctic Monkeys w/Smith Westerns - September 30, 2011

Almost two months between concert and review. This is far and away a record. I know I've talked about giving up on these, but I was always planning on writing this - it's just that things happened. Me happened. I figured I was due for one of those "hey guys, I'm writing this in an airport, can you imagine, wow the future" reviews that feel like a first-time thing every time out. But then I wanted to do other things in the airports like... not write a review. And airplanes are just too snug for netbooks. And then I was in Hawaii and thought it would be neat to write one while relaxing on the deck, but instead I devoted my patio time to drinking drinks and doing crosswords which isn't nearly as lame as it sounds.

So. Arctic Monkeys. I vaguely remember that happening. I think the drive to Saskatoon was fine? I bet I had a bag of baked chips, or maybe some jerky. Oh! We got pitas before the show and they weren't great. HOT JOURNALISM. And I wonder why I quit blogging.

The Odeon was the Odeon. Crowded and hot, and drinks cost too much, and they carded me despite being tubby and grey-haired and 35. I won't lie, I was pretty delighted even though I know it was strictly a result of their "card everybody" policy. I'm old and in need of ego boosts, so I'll take it.

I never see anyone I know at these shows anymore. I guess I haven't lived in Saskatoon for almost a decade (also, see above re:  old). Instead, Mika and I were left with a random selection of bros and hipsters. And for all the abuse that hipsters take, I have to say that they're far preferable to the bros. The hipsters dress like idiots, but at least they're generally interested in watching the show. They may deny it after the fact, but that's none of my concern. The bros are only there to get laid, so they just spend the whole time being loud and in my way and smelling up the joint with Axe body spray. Ladies can be hipsters, but what does one call a lady bro? "Sis" doesn't work.

When I think of lady hipsters, I think of Rosie the Riveter with giant stupid glasses saying "we could do it... I guess... or not, I mean, I was into that last year..." and it turns out that there's over a million Google hits for "Rosie the Riveter hipster" so maybe I should just keep my stupid ideas to myself because they're not nearly as clever as I think they are but we're already at the part where I talk about the bands and I never have much to say and how will I ever pad this out if I just keep on deleting sections for inconsequential reasons such as they're stupid and make me look dumb?

Speaking of, if you want a band that I have nothing to say about, it's the Smith Westerns! I know that I often say "they were a band" to describe a band that I have no opinion on, but man, if ever there was a "they were a band" band, it was the Smith Westerns. I remember being blown away at how little I felt about these guys. At no point did I ever like or dislike their music. I remember texting a friend and using some term like "aggressively forgettable" to describe them. I can't really describe their sound now, but I couldn't have done so five minutes after they were done playing either. I am sure there are people who love this band, and if you are one of them, good on ya. The only thing that stood out for me was how little stood out.

And then the Arctic Monkeys were really good, and then we drove back to Regina and went to sleep because we were super tired because we are old.

(uhh, crap, say something more)

I... took a video of I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor with my phone and it didn't really turn out but you can get the idea.

(nobody cares about that)

Okay. Well. They confirmed my suspicion that British bands really enjoy saying "Saskatoon" out loud.

(that's only funny to you)

We didn't order chicken fingers and we weren't joined by Xylon or Shiwala Jamal or Gaston The Clown, and if there was a midget in the mosh pit, nobody told me about it.

(those were references to reviews from 10 years ago, none of the people who'd understand are still reading these - have you ever noticed your inability to keep friends)

I don't know what you want, voice-in-my-parentheses/head. They played a bunch of songs I know, and I don't feel like listing them so I hope you are willing to take me at my word. But even better, the songs I didn't know were just as enjoyable. It was loud and mostly fast and fun and everyone seemed to have a fine ol' time. In fact, I'd say it was the best show of the year so far, and SPOILER neither Big Sugar nor The Tea Party come close to challenging them for that spot, and I say that despite the fact that the Tea Party show hasn't even happened yet.

Nov. 27th, 2011

Aaron icon

2011-11-25 Mastodon

So Craig said a buddy bailed on a ticket to a Mastodon show in Toronto on Friday, would I wanna go? Um, do fish swim? My only concerns were that I worked til six that night, and had to work again at 9:30 on Saturday morning. We live far enough away from the city to make it a good haul, so a trip to Toronto for a show would mean two+ hours down, the show (however late that goes), and two+ hours back. Late late late. Was I in? Of course I was in.

I should preface the rest of this by saying that I'd never been to a full-on metal show before, although some might consider my seeing Ministry in Saskatoon as such. Or maybe Tool... But somehow this felt like my first dedicated metal outing. I know, it's shocking. I really don't get out much. Pathetic, for a fan of the genre... watching my cred die painfully...

So I get out of work on Friday, we bomb down to the Kool Haus (with a quick stop at IKEA). Going in, we walked past the roadies (and/or band members) of concert openers Red Fang as they were loading out. Missed their set completely. Someday I will look them up to see what we missed. We passed the merch tables. Craig wanted a kid-sized Mastodon t-shirt for his son (no luck). Maybe metalheads don't think of the toddlers? An oversight. Anyway.

As we walked into the venue, Dillinger Escape Plan was already at full steam and sandblasting the place with their efforts. I have no idea how many songs we missed, but we caught a good half dozen of them at least, and I can say with authority (having never heard an album of theirs) that they were very loud, very fast, very aggressive, and energetic to the nth degree. Greg Puciato strutted and screamed and flexed his big muscles, and the band members jumped off equipment and whipped their instruments around as though this were their last night on Earth and they wanted to make the most of it.

Firstly, I don't know how anyone could scream like that for as long as he does, and still have a voice when it's over. Maybe he doesn't. But then he was off the stage and doing his thing from the crowd, or body-surfing on the crowd, or crouching down front and involving those in the first rows. Audience participation seemed big to him (including starting a chant-along of telling the band "You Fucking Suck"). I am also mystified as to how those musicians can make cohesive music while wildly jumping off amps and flinging themselves around with abandon as they did. But there they were, just going for it. Amazing.

I first learned of these guys on Metal Sucks prior to the show, so I looked them up on Wiki just now, and their brand of music is called mathcore, for those who make such distinctions. I also learned that there are no founding members remaining in the band at present. Whatever, they rocked, and they rocked HARD. I don't know if I could listen to a lot of that type of thing all at once, and maybe the vocals would be more distinct (not just seemingly non-verbal primal screams) on their albums, but I sure appreciated them while they did their thing on this night. A powerful set.

I hit the head between bands, and was amused by a guy in line behind me admitting to being flumoxed to find a long line-up for the men's, while the women's had no line at all. This, to him, was the reverse of the usual. A guy ahead of us said, "Dude, you're at a Mastodon concert. Total sausage-fest." He had a point. Granted, there were ladies in the house, and we all know how hot metal chicks can be, but it was true that most of this audience was comprised of young, white males. Hence the line-up. I also commended the room, while washing my hands. I said, to everyone, "I'm so impressed to see the metal kids washing their hands! With soap! Way to go, guys!" They all laughed. But I meant it. And actually, except for the one guy who was bobbing and weaving drunkenly near me for a while during Mastodon, the crowd where we were standing was utterly respectful of personal space. They were all just there to hear the music and thrust metal horns at the stage. Right on.

Anyway, we drank expensive cans of beer served to us by girls built like twelve-year-olds in tight black outfits while we waited for Mastodon to come on. The crowd grew in size and density. People cheered when roadies pulled the covering off the drum set and revealed the Hunter logo on the bass drum. You know, you can tell a crowd wants and loves the headlining band when they cheer for a drum set that no one is even playing yet.

And then Mastodon appeared and, without any hesitation, took control of the entire place as the crowd lost its shit.

Look, I'm new to this band. I knew of them, but hadn't heard much of their music except what Craig plays whenever we were hanging at his place (he has all the vinyls), and the few tracks I caught on the youtubes on the day prior to the gig. I don't own any of their albums (yet, but I will), and their song titles mean nothing to me. So, while all the fans in the house went nuts for each tune, I was approaching the show as a neophyte. Honestly, each note and move was a revelation to me. I can appreciate getting into this band via their albums. I'm sure they are incredible. But to have my true introduction to their talents be standing there in the crowd, agape, as they ripped out song after mind-blowing song was a treat, indeed. After three songs, I was convinced. Holy shit, they're amazing. Fingers flying, heads banging, voices growling, the band plowed through each track almost without between-song banter (although I think Troy Sanders said thank you once, after a song). They were there to work, and brother, they worked hard.

Have you ever stood in the presence of greatness and just known it for it was? Have you ever envied people for stepping off the treadmill and just doing exactly what makes them happy while having a blast doing it? That's Mastodon. The songs are insanely intricate, served up at high velocity and with maximum heaviness, and the band is locked tight from note one. They truly ROCK. Even based on minimal knowledge, anyone would acknowledge that these four musicians are consummate performers. Sanders full-on rocked out for his vocal and bass duties, Brent Hinds wailed away on his guitar and vocals with total accuracy and menace, Bill Kelliher stalked his side of the stage and whipped off riffs that would maim the unwary, and holy shit Brann Dailor absolutely pummelled the drums. His arms were a blur for the entire set. Just astounding - I couldn't stop watching him. The songs themselves, while I couldn't make out too many of the lyrics, sounded like the band is aiming for epic and hitting bullseye every time.

I walked out of the Kool Haus a convert. Mastodon was thrilling, surely one the best hard rock acts to hit the mainstream in a long, long, long time. I consider myself very fortunate to have been there for it. My huge thanks to Craig for the ticket, the drive there and back, and for listening to me babble ad nauseum after the show as I tried to find the right adjectives to describe how amazing it all was. Yes, I would see this band again anytime.

Also, I made it through work the next morning on adrenaline alone. It's all good (what could possibly have gone wrong?). We only live once, so go for it, man.

Also, for those who care, here's the setlist I found after three seconds' searching online:

Dry Bone Valley
Black Tongue
Crystal Skull
I Am Ahab
Capillarian Crest
Colony of Birchmen
Megalodon
Blasteroid
Sleeping Giant
Ghost of Karelia
All the Heavy Lifting
Spectrelight
Curl of the Burl
Bedazzled Fingernails
Circle of Cysquatch
Aqua Dementia
Crack the Skye
Where Strides the Behemoth
Iron Tusk
March of the Fire Ants
Blood and Thunder

Encore:
Creature Lives

Nov. 22nd, 2011

Aaron icon

Flight 666

My review of Banger Films' movie about Iron Maiden's world tour, in haiku form:

Maiden! Maiden! Mai-
den! Maiden! Maiden! Maiden!
Maiden! Fucking A.

Nov. 20th, 2011

Vinyl Siding

Eric Clapton - Journeyman

[Reprise/Duck Records 92-60741, 1989]

I bought this for a couple of songs that I love, and ended up liking the whole thing. Mostly. The guitar work is, of course, unimpeachable, and most of the songs are so strong it hurts. But the 80's weren't kind to anybody, and some of the sound is pure 80's cheese.

SIDE A

Pretending's cool little blues intro devolves quickly into its Miami Vice-like sound (with blistering guitar runs and solos, of course), which totally matches the hilarious, wrinkled and ill-fitting grey Don Johnson-esque leisure suit (with shades!) he's wearing on the back cover of this record. Those reverb synths, that chorus that somehow manages to bring things down a bit rather than lifting it all up (as a chorus should), Chaka Khan on backing vocals... Great song. Just definitely of a period.

Anything For Your Love keeps that sound alive, at half-speed, sounding like it could have come off any major Hollywood movie soundtrack circa 1985. The guitar hammer-on noodling in the background is fun, but it helps to have headphones on to notice that it is there. Really nice solo here, and Robert Cray on guitar too!

Bad Love's synth intro gives way to a satisfying guitar line worthy of Cream. Of course, by the time he starts singing, the song lightens up again. The pace also seems too quick, trying too hard. I wonder if Phil Collins being on drums for this track has anything to do with that. Oh well. The soloing here is absolutely blistering.

Running On Faith is one of the reasons I bought this record. It's one of the most gorgeous songs Clapton has ever recorded, capturing that longing, that blues that can (and does, here) save a record. The acoustic slide guitar, the choir, everything. Perfect. The version on 24 Nights is also glorious.

Hard Times is the main reason I brought this home, and my favourite track on this record, Greg Philliganes is all over the piano on this superlative cover of Ray Charles, his playing the real heart of the song. The guitar is perfect, the horns (including a sax solo!), the story of the song... Man, I love this track.

Hound Dog is a fun, stomping jalopy run-through of an old classic. You can tell this is the point in the recording sessions where the band just wanted to be loose and have fun. And who wouldn't, with Robert Cray along for the ride again?! Good on 'em, anyway. It totally worked. The spirit here is easy to recognize.

SIDE B

No Alibis is another 80's blast, worthy of any of Steve Winwood's records. A great guitar sound, that soaring soloing. Daryl Hall grabs harmony vocals (where was Oats?), and Chaka Khan and friends return for backing vocals.

Run So Far, written by George Harrison, features the man himself. This track definitely displays his sound and influence. Amazing he's here, really, given his history with Mr. Clapton and a particular woman... shows incredible personal courage and restraint. Anyway, also cool to see Rolling Stone Darryl Jones on bass, here.

Old Love is a great blues that wants to break free of the 80's grip of the record. Robert Cray on guitar, Gary Burton on vibes. Just a great slow dancer with guitars everywhere.

Breaking Point is funky chunky, and still holding tight to the sense that it ought to have Harold Faltermeyer playing on it. Great wah-wah guitar. The song drags on a bit long with far too much repetition (taking the listener to their own Breaking Point?), but whatever. Maybe they could have cut out the synth break. Oh yeah, they could have.

Lead Me On is a pretty, wobbly-sounding love song with Cecil and Lina Womack (it's their song) sharing vocal duties. Some of the lyrics are right out of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, and the rest is pure disgusting maudlin, but I guess they were just in a touchy-feely mood. Let them have their moment.

Before You Accuse Me brings back Robert Cray again for a rip through this Bo Diddley classic. I love this track. Some absolutely scorching guitar solos here, and that great shuffling 12-bar blues that Clapton should use more often. You may know the version on Unplugged better, but this one absolutely smokes.

This record contains a couple of my favourite Clapton tracks, and some toss-aways too. It may also have seemed to be the last of its kind for 'God' himself, teetering as it was on the edge of the grunge period.

Nov. 15th, 2011

Vinyl Siding

Leonard Cohen - Songs From A Room

[Columbia CS-9767]

Ah, Leonard, another artist who is a must-have on vinyl for me. I've always loved his work, both prose and song (and surely the two are one in the same, in most cases). So, when I found this, it was a shoe-in to come home with me.

SIDE A

Bird On A Wire is just one of those songs (and what an opening salvo for an album!). I wouldn't care how many times it got played, so long as this was the man singing it. It is gorgeously orchestral as much as it is simply acoustic. It is also slightly absurd, with what must be a jewsharp boinging in the background (and indeed that thing appears all over this record). In other words, the track is pure Leonard at his most focussed, his most beautiful. I know Kris Kristofferson once said he wanted the opening stanza of this song to be his epitaph. Too much? You decide. I'd say not.

Story Of Isaac brings a bible tale to life to a vaguely olde English tune. To me, the bass here has always seemed too jaunty versus the harrowing tale being told, and it occasionally cuts right out at the ends of the verses. Weird. Best line: "You who build these altars, now, to sacrifice these children, you must not do it any more." Amen, brother.

A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes sounds almost identical to So Long, Marianne, except in story. Odd synth-like sounds (or, is that a guitar?) and that boinging noise again. Just the right amount of goofy to temper the power of his message, a sly wink while still getting his point across. And wow, has his voice ever deepened with age! There are some notes he hits here to which I doubt he could even come near, now.

The Partisan, another well-known tune, has super-cool and relentless guitar-picking, juxtaposed with such a simple bass line, which together totally carry the song. We even gets some accordion! Busting out some of the lyrics en francais is also a nice touch. I could never decide if this is a children/teen's choir or a women's choir. I suppose the internets could tell me, but I prefer to savour this mystery as there is no indication on the album cover.

Seems So Long Ago, Nancy is wistful and full of heartbreak. Poor Nancy, doomed from the beginning. And how prescient of him, to sing of 1961 and mention it seems so long ago (a whole 8 years!... and think of how long ago it seems to us now). Well-played. People talk about Leonard being morbid, but it's really just an extremely intelligent, dark beauty and humour, and this tune proves it.

SIDE B

The Old Revolution carries on the sound from Side A, that vaguely-country-ish, bouncy and yet still gently morose sound. And again with the prominent boinging. Imagine being on tour as the guy who did that job every show. Weird and wonderful. But, never mind. This is another beautiful song-poem as only 1969 Leonard could muster it.

The Butcher plods along like an amateur at a campfire, but with another great story. Almost Zen-like, just how simple the song is gets carried away by the perfect match here of his vocals, words and music. Damn.

You Know Who I Am brings back the mid-tempo jaunt into poetry unmatched. There's a reality, a sense of being, in these songs. The guitar bit after the choruses is also simply great.

Lady Midnight is another brilliant track, should be on the Hits collections (if it isn't). Here we have a relationship that may or may not be healthy for either of those involved. And that repetitive last bit always amuses me, "You've won me, you've won me, my Lord." Haha awesome.

Tonight Will Be Fine sounds like Leonard covering Johnny Cash which, in its own way, makes a certain sort of sense (when it isn't disorienting). That same Cash bass line, a nicely-picked guitar. There's even some harmonic whistling at the end. It's one of the fastest songs on the record, which is a nice send-off to this contemplative, beautiful record. Most bands would put the fast stuff at the start of Side A, but not our Leonard, no. And in having it like this, it gives hope for the next release by leaving the listener wanting more. Always more.

Did I like this? Oh yes. We all need more Leonard in our lives.

Oct. 23rd, 2011

Aaron icon

Metallica and Lou Reed's Lulu - first impressions

Much fuss is being made over this new Metallica / Lou Reed collaboration called Lulu. I have to admit, when songs started leaking out, I thought for sure they were just fucking with people. That they'd made goofy tracks to distract people from the monster that the actual album surely would be. Or maybe that's just what I was hoping.

So, when a buddy sent me a link from their web site for hearing all of the tracks, I jumped on it. There follows my thoughts, typed as I listened...

Brandenburg Gate's sloppy acoustic intro explodes into a fairly repetitve slow-metal jam. Reed's beat-poet ramblings are typically weird, and Hetfield's yelps add little. If this is track one of the album, it's an odd way to start. Still, I hold out hope it'll get better...

The View chugs along on a nicely crunchy riff, but only improves with Hetfield's vocal contributions. Reed is just talking over top of things, never really adding emotion or sense to any of it.

Pumping Blood's violin intro becomes a cool Metallica stomper with menacing guitar buzz in the background. Reed is still running off at the mouth, but when the riff lets up and becomes a lithe and creeping thing, the song gets more interesting. Wish Lars hadn't messed up that part with those drum fills. Would have been better if he'd come in when the song called for it. But it builds back up into a promising rush until... it falls apart again. Too much up and down. Either go slow or rock, pick one. Ah, there we go. Pick up the pace and go for it. The music's great. Wish Reed would shut up, already. And now they're doubling-timing it, faster faster faster... and back. Nice.

We slide seamlessly into Mistress Dread's intro, which quickly becomes a furious Metallica ripper. Damn, that's fast (can Lars manage it?). Oh no, Reed's trying to sing. So atonal. So... awful. And what the hell is he saying? Oh screw it, he hasn't said anything of importance yet, it's all just going past me without sinking in. Who cares what he's babbling about? You know what this record needs, so far, is a separate release of just the instrumental versions of these songs. That'd be great. Sorry Lou, but on this track you suck and you're in the way. Maybe he needs to get an orchestra together and re-record this stuff with them. It might work better.

Iced Honey's riff sounds a little too much like a Metallica-ized "Walk On The Wild Side." But get past that, and the song is nicely heavy, a jam session track, nothing more. It doesn't really grow or change. It just bashes along. Hetfield finally sings a bit (in the background) again, if that helps at all.

Cheat On Me has a slow build, sound experiments becoming bass-heavy structure, then add strings... then vocals... and now it's a song. Is this repetition going to go on for 11 minutes, though? Still listening... around the ten minute mark it starts to feel like it's going to crash, and thank goodness. Would somebody please answer these guys as to why they "cheat on me?" Please. Stop them from repeating themselves. Please. OK, the last minute or so is interesting, but wow did the rest of it make me tired. Not the best track here. Not even close.

So the next song title is apt, Frustration. Let's see how it does. Weirdo intro becomes a thrilling riff. Now this sounds great! Turn it up and hope Reed doesn't sing... oh shit. Well, it would have been better if Hetfield had had a turn. A good heavy song, but I have to admit I'm really getting tired of Reed's ass by now. OK, OK, just remember this isn't a Metallica record. This is a diversion, don't let it get to you... and this is at least the second time on this record Reed has mentioned he feels like a girl. What? And what is this cruddy middle section? Ah, OK, the riff is back. Just listen to the music. And now the weird nothingness part again. Sigh.

Distracted, I've looked up some more on this record while this song blathers in the background. According to Amazon, these songs are based on a couple of expressionist plays by some guy. Fine. Looked on as an art project, more of Reed's ramblings make sense, I guess. But is it something I want to listen to more than once?

Back to Frustration. At the 6:45 mark, things finally begin to rock. I don't count on it lasting. The rest of the record would indicate it won't. I can't get it out of my head that if these riffs had been made into a full-on Metallica release, with more typical lyrics, it would be awesome. Sorry Lou. You're not doing it for me, on this run-through (so far). Only three track to go.

Little Dog brings back the acoustic intro, Reed rambling on for a full four minutes or so (the band surely getting a coffee) before coming back and adding little but atmospherics. This is pretty weak. I suppose if I were high, this might hold more interest.

Dragon lets Reed babble for another three minutes'-worth of introduction before things get interesting (meaning, insert now-typical Metallica-ish riff here. Wow,Lars plays the same damn thing every time). There are interesting little tidbits in the background here, and as the songs reaches approximately the eight minute-mark, it full-on rocks. Of course it lets up by the end again, basically deconstructing everything the previous ten minutes had created until it all goes away.

And finally we have Junior Dad, which daunts me. It is listed at almost twenty minutes long. Part of me hopes it's more interesting, with that much room to move and experiment. Or is it over-reaching ambition, a bloated slab of nothingness appended to the rest of this collection of sound experiments? Let's see...

The intro is more strings with Reed trying to hum along to them. The band joins in. Still light stuff. It's dragging on a little long now, now the band has disappeared for a while.. wait, is that an accordion? Now the band is back, same things as before. Yawn. As we approach the nine minute mark, things get a bit heavier... OK, I can dig it. And now, after only a couple of minutes, they're gone again, of course, leaving just that droning thing again. Um, am I meant to be envisioning something here, while this goes on? Because it isn't working for me. I'm not getting anything. Aaaaand... the last ten minutes this track are a waste. Just an extended session of held, changing notes. Is it meant to put us to sleep? It's working. Or maybe, since this is about some plays, these last minutes are what's playing as the audience leaves the theater? Whatever, they could have cut that track in half.

And that's that.

Well then.

In Sum: Whoa. Lou Reed pasted into Metallica. It doesn't work. Not really. On one level, sure, I suppose it does. But their sounds are so distinctive that they clash against each other more than they meld at all. It's more than a little jarring. I hope this is a one-off project.

My buddy Mike says he likes it, that he has a place in his life for music like this. Good on him. And, with all this said, what about me? Well, I'm very grateful for the chance to hear it. Will I run right out and buy it? Of course I will, it's Metallica. Will I listen to it often? No. Will I play it now and again in the hopes that it might reach me differently, that some mood might make me care more? Of course. Will it eventually click with me and become a favourite? Probably. This is the kind of thing that takes multiple plays to take on a kind of coherent shape in my head. Ask me in six months. I may have a different take altogether and be embarrassed by the preceeding diatribe. Or maybe I'll stand by it. We'll see.

Oct. 1st, 2011

Vinyl Siding

Aretha Franklin - Aretha's Gold

[Atlantic Records SD-8227, 1969]

I think you can tell, in my early days of buying vinyls, that I am after the ones I'll keep forever. The solid friends that will never leave me. Case in point:

What can I say about Aretha, except she is AMAZING. She IS soul, never far from her gospel roots, and possessed of so much power and grace that all the so-called R&B singers of today wither in her shadow. This early collection of brilliant classics proves it.

SIDE A

I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You), the title of which always made me think she was talking to another woman, is one helluva way to start this anthology. So soulful, a showcase for the true power of Aretha's vocals.

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man is such a gorgeous track, a soul-song equivalent of a big warm hug.

Respect (written by Otis Redding, don't-cha know) needs no introduction at all, nor comment from me (except WOW!).

Dr. Feelgood is a great blues in the classic soul/blues tradition.

Baby, I Love You, a song that my lovely wife used to leave on my answering machine when we were dating. So of course I have a soft spot for this one, but it's still one helluva track.

(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman improves greatly with Aretha's rendition. With strings! Chain Of Fools just smokes. What a groove, with a swing! Damn.

And if that wasn't enough to prove this is the First Lady Of Soul, there's another whole side to absorb...

SIDE B

Since You've Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby) is a peppy masterpiece. Great bass and piano.

Ain't No Way is a lovely slow dancer that seethes with emotion.

Think is another of those monster tracks we all know and love.

You Send Me (written by Sam Cooke, don't-cha know) is just a fabulous version that picks up the pace over the original.

The House That Jack Built is another indelible groove, with plenty of horns and backing vocals.

Burt Bacharach's I Say A Little Prayer feels most out of place here, mostly because it's closer to the original and, therefore, the least like Aretha's trademark soul.

See Saw, a Steve Cropper tune (you need to know who this is, if you don't already), brings the whole she-bang to a beautiful close.

I could listen to Aretha any time of the day or night. Love it.

Sep. 29th, 2011

Vinyl Siding

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On

[Motown Records - TS 310, 1971]

Another Must Buy on vinyl, for all the right reasons.

SIDE A

The party intro to What's Going On, at first, doesn't fit the song. That is, until you see how quickly he starts to move away from that gathering's devil-may-care nothingness, to show us how fake it all is. Through his totally sweet soul vocals, and with perfect accompaniment, Gaye sets the scene and lets us know that it's time to wake up, time to engage our brains and look at the world around us. Brilliant.

What's Happening Brother laments war as a solution for anything, and the faulty wiring in society that allows it as a viable option. Set over a smooth groove and bongo drums. So great.

Dissolve into the aching, gorgeous Flyin' High (In The Friendly Sky). By now Marvin's not making poetry out of his outrage anymore. He's in your face, calling it all "so stupid." His vocals are totally gripping, here.

The talking break says it all in Save The Children. With no breaks between tracks, the rants, the sadness and the honest pleas meld together into one larger, genuine sentiment.

Through the similar lines of God Is Love and...

straight into the classic Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song). Over a slick soul groove, Gaye also makes an impassioned plea on behalf of our very planet.

This first side, alone, is a tour de force. Enough to sustain you for weeks. But you're only halfway there. Brace yourself.

SIDE B

What a great track of music starts this side, and what a solo! Right On is just a perfect song, and punctuated by flute! Stilll, I might do without the distracting, repetitive scratchy/rubbing sound on every other beat. Another call for peace, its seven minutes slide past smoothly.

Wholy Holy eases things back, equally a call to believe in religion, our fellow man, and in ourselves. A brief, deep breath and then unrelentingly we follow right into another classic track...

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), where Gaye laments the eternal battle between the haves and the have-nots, the struggle of the average Joe with just how low that average is... it's a big picture cry for help and hope in the face of overwhelming odds and circumstances. In other words, it's the perfect ending to, frankly, a perfect record.

The ultimate protest record? Probably. What we need to hear, in every generation (until we get it)? Oh yes. Done so beautifully that it might be easy to forget the messages within and just go with the music? Oh hells yes. But stay aware and on your toes, kids. You need to hear this.

Brilliant.

Sep. 26th, 2011

Vinyl Siding

Otis Redding - The Dock Of The Bay

[Volt Records S-419, 1968]

This was a Must Buy, for me, and it was the first vinyl I bought after I got my new (to me) stereo. I have always loved Otis, and I just knew that these songs would sound so much warmer on vinyl, that this would be the only way to truly hear these tunes. I was right - I played my CD version and, while great, it just isn't the same.

SIDE A

(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay needs no introduction. One of soul musics biggest tracks.

I Love You More Than Words Can Say is a gorgeous slow-dancer where Otis' vocals are so sweet, and the horns are his perfect wingmen.

Come On Home is a great, slinky, shuffling song. I can't help but imagine how awesome this track would have been as a duet with Aretha, as it has that same vibe as her Baby, I Love You.

Open The Door finds Otis talking to us, then preaching that soul gospel about looking to reconnect with his lost love. Amazing.

Don't Mess With Cupid's great guitar riff intro becomes pure soul stomp goodness. Hot damn.

SIDE B

The Glory of Love is another sweet love song over perfect piano interjection and guitar arpeggios. I could do without the persistent rasp noises in the beginning, which are totally distracting, but as the song builds it makes more sense. Poor choice, there.

I'm Coming Home picks things up a bit and is an infectious , positive love song.

Tramp (a duet with Carla Thomas) is a playful stomper. She even tells him to get a haircut. Haha.

The Huckle-Buck is a big, fat, juicy groove that makes me think it'd be a favourite of Baloo The Bear.

Nobody Knows You (When You're Down And Out) is a knockout version of an old classic. Otis sure can take a familiar song and make it his own.

Ole Man Trouble rounds out the side beautifully, swinging along on a solid bass line and the man's perfect vocals.

What a loss for music, when Otis died. He was truly one of the greats, and given far too little time.

Produced by Steve Cropper, the guitar genius who is all over this record with his stellar playing, this album is indeed Essential.

Sep. 16th, 2011

Aaron icon

Deadboy & The Elephantmen - We Are The Night Sky

This duo must be tired of comparisons to the White Stripes. But it'd be pretty hard to shake, in some ways. Two people, guitar and drums, bluesy rawk...

But there are differences here, too, in their farther-ranging sonic approach, a little less bombast, and no candycane outfits. More significantly, Riggs' vocals are far less shrill than White's, and Brunet can actually harmonize.

This album alternates between balls-out electric rockers, where the energy really shines, and plodding, minimalist tracks where the vocals come to the fore and it seems he's almost afraid to strum his acoustic. And there's really not much middle ground, it's all or nothing. This makes for a weird listen, but it's still highly pleasing overall. It's fun to not know what's coming next. I can see why this album appealed to Fat Possum.

Break It Off and Evil Friend sound like they were recorded in the living room, on cheap equipment. Kissed By Lightning would really rock in a concert setting. Album opener Stop, I'm Already Dead is a keeper, as is Ancient Man.

Just hear this and decide for yourself. I liked it.

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