Wednesday, July 30, 2003

My good man Shockk called on the weekend to invite me and the belter out to a solo show he was putting on at the Starry Dynamo. I feel badly that we couldn’t make it due to various factors, because I’ve never seen Shockk solo. The few times I’ve gone to see him, he’s always cancelled and been replaced by the Motorcycle Man. In such situations I usually manage to salvage the evening, and maybe even score a free LP or two during MM’s usual set of audience abuse and ironic irony metal.

So, as a tribute to the Shockker, I wanna talk about a CD he put out recently: White Plastic Deer by Mongoose. On the CD, Mongoose consists of Shockk and RC, and I gather they’ve recruited a couple more players for live shows. I don’t know much about Mr. C except that he’s part of the Roadbed circle of friends that I can never keep track of. If I wanted to keep tabs on them all I’d never find time to feed myself.

Mongoose recorded the album at ye olde Shockk Center by sticking to a “one song per session” work ethic, which I admire and endorse. That doesn’t mean the album sounds like a hastily executed compilation of unformed ideas. It’s a very polished piece of work, in fact. The rapid recording process only energized the songs in a way that a more leisurely approach wouldn’t have.

The 14 songs that Mongoose laid down are short and tight, mostly of the melodic pop/punk variety, says the budding music reviewer. None of them break three minutes, and the album races by in less than 25. You’d never know this was recorded on cassette—it sounds enormous. It’s a tribute to Shockk’s mixing abilities, as well as the ace mastering of JLS.

The straight-edge anthem “Last Party” starts the album and from there on in you’d better pay attention because there are plenty of golden moments to be enjoyed. “Ego Feed” sounds like Superchunk. Shockk’s voice (especially as heard on “Get On”) has always reminded me of Mac’s from that band. “Heet of the Moment” has a very commercial, Fox-rockin’ feel—too much for personal comfort. There’s some all-out speedpunk on “Redtailed Hawk,” which takes some interesting turns during its comparatively epic two and a half minutes. Trumping them all is “Let’s All Go to the Restaurant,” a song so catchy that I laughed out loud the first time I heard it.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that most of the songs are drum-machined, because Shockk is an excellent programmer. His real drumming is spot on as always. He and RC must have had a blast recording this album. I know that whenever I’ve been involved in a project that jelled quickly and produced something over a short period, I’ve always looked back on it as a special time in my life. I hope the Mongoose boys feel the same way, and that they’re proud of what they‘ve done.

Another amazing artifact from another amazing friend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

In Flames, Chimaira, and Soilwork, Commodore Ballroom, July 21
It was nice to see a big turnout last night. Smash and I mulled over the fact that 10 years ago a show like this might have filled up the Starfish Room, but here we were wading through the crowd in the Commodore, which is three times the size. It seems that Starfish audience is still around, along with a newer, equally well-informed, wave of fans. Quality metal tours that make it up here are as rare as ever, so the local metalheads showed up in force.

Soilwork came on first, for some unknown reason—maybe the opening acts swapped positions from gig to gig. Soilwork are extremely popular, no doubt about it. The floor filled up, and the band had people’s attention all the way to the back. Dressed in matching In Flames tour shirts (3/4-sleeved baseball tees in Swedish national colours), they charged into “The Flameout” from Natural Born Chaos (I believe), battled through some sound problems, and delivered a really strong set culled mainly from their last two albums. New drummer Richard Evensand had a great relaxed style. Some drummers are able to assert absolute authority over their kit without being dicks about it, and this guy was one of them. The bassist was trying too hard to be the life of the party, but at least his playing was bang-on. Big bald singer Speed worked the crowd well—as I said, people were well into it right to the back. Soilwork’s main songwriting strength—catchy, cleanly sung choruses—suffered a bit in concert. It came off well half the time and got lost in the muddy opening-act sound on other occasions.

Chimaira were up next. They were ten shades heavier than Soilwork, they tuned about ten steps lower, and they were ten times worse. Take Fear Factory and Sepultura, remove all personality and songcraft, and you’ve got Chimaira—an utterly unnecessary band. I couldn’t pick out a single worthwhile fragment of music—just heavy, heavy, heavy, boring, boring, boring. Lots of junting on “E” (or was it “B”?), and guitar solos that made Kerry King sound like Jeff Beck. I took to watching my plastic beer cup vibrate across the table. I’ll admit that some of their slow bits sounded promising, and I appreciated the fact that their frontman talked to the crowd like a human being, but otherwise…that’s 45 minutes of my life I’m not getting back.

Did I hear Radiohead on the P.A. between sets? Smash and I agreed that it’s wise to play music from outside the genre between sets at metal shows. It’s so much better for priming the senses. And as Smash says, what’s the point of playing, say, Sabbath over the P.A.? It’s not like the band that’s about to come on is going to deliver anything better than that.

In Flames were very pro, with their own light show and huge Swedish flag backdrop. They delivered a similar product to Soilwork—melodic Swedish speed metal—but with tons of harmony guitar lines and some mysteriously deployed technology to augment the sound. I wondered if the drummer was playing to a click track because sequenced synth sounds and canned background vocals popped up during various songs. Soilwork could have used some of that trickery to bolster their vocal parts, too. In Flames also had the best sound of the night— headliner privileges again. They played a good cross-section of material from 10 years’ worth of albums (where does the time go?), and didn’t seem to favour the new stuff too heavily. Singer Anders Fridén, sporting some HM dreads, thanked the opening bands, thanked the crew, thanked us for being the best crowd of the entire tour (hmm, yeah) and threw the horns a lot, and everyone answered with gestures in kind. I’ve personally stopped throwing the horns because of this. There was no encore, which I didn’t mind. I was pretty metalled out by the end of the set. It was also the last show of the tour, so maybe the band was anxious to get back on the bus and head home.

Monday, July 21, 2003

I got an invitation from Super Robertson last Thursday to go into the studio and add some background vocals to an ex-Jackass Has Haybreath song. Willingdon Black was there too. He got pressed into service first, singing the entire tune four or five times before Super and I went into the booth to perform some hasty disharmony vocals in the Haybreath spirit. Two Sticks manned the console and the Protools, piling up more tracks than is reasonable for a 1:45 four-chorder. I’m pretty sure my contribution will be dragged and dropped into the Trash, so that should simplify the mixdown for him.

Super complimented me on my full jeansuit as we wrapped things up. Hey, it was a Roadbed recording session and I wasn’t going to deliver anything less. Sometimes you gotta Cliff ’Em All.

I dropped into the Three Als on the weekend to get my hair cut. It was getting out of hand, and there’s no way I can pull off the ironic afro. I took a hint from Ken Logan, who asked me last week if I was thinking about joining Boston. Things are pretty dire when I start getting style advice from someone who mostly wears sweatpants.

Post-haircut, the belter and the stinker and I went by my parents’ house, where my sister is holed up while Clive and Sally are away. I did the dad thing—cut the lawn, fired up the barbeque...just generally created manly amounts of smoke and noise all evening.

My dad’s really outdone himself with the lawn this year. It’s even more perfectly green and carpet-like than usual. His new automatic underground watering system seems to be working a treat.

However, now more than ever, the lawn is there to be admired rather than enjoyed. We were in the backyard, polishing off dinner and shooting the shit—couldn’t ask for a more pleasant ambience—when sprinkler nozzles shot up from under the grass and started spritzing us down. Party over.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

“I am a C, I am an H…”
I found the first May Blitz album at Neptoon last weekend, but they wanted $30 for it, which was a little rich for my blood. Thirty bucks is just the wrong side of expensive for a fairly beat-up copy of an album I’ve never heard before.

When I was a kid I’d need to hear an album half a dozen times at somebody else’s place before I’d commit to buying it. But after a few years of music consumption I discovered the allure of the unknown, bolstered by the self-formulated fanboy logic that if the Queen album that depicted the band being killed by a gigantic robot was cool, then the Queen album that pictured them all dead of (sheer) heart attacks must be cool also. And the logic was sound.

With Neptoon having priced May Blitz into oblivion, my attention has turned instead another local band from the seventies: The New Creation. I read an article about them in the Sun on Monday that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It had all the components of a compelling story: family dynamics and drama, salvation through music, steadfast creative determination, struggles against indifference and disdain, a random rise from obscurity and a possible creative renaissance. And it all began in a wood-paneled basement in Coquitlam.

If you’re curious, you can find out more here.

I guess the immediate appeal for this sort of thing is “ha-ha, they’re so bad they’re good.” The same appeal that the Shaggs have, although the New Creation were nowhere near as otherworldly and shocking as the Wiggins sisters were.

There’s also the earnest flipside, as we wonder at the beauty of their naivete and guilelessness. I favour this point of view, but I think it’s good to make an effort to appreciate the hard evidence. From what I can tell, the songs are witty. The New Creation aren’t stuck up their own pious arseholes; they’re trying hard to entertain. And the playing is firmly in accidental Velvet Underground mode—not bad at all. If you think the singing needs a little work, well, I’d like to see you try to record your first album in six hours. Black Sabbath did it, but they had Satan on their side.

They also had the stripped-down guitar/drums configuration that’s mandatory for hip bands nowadays.

The New Creation's chosen means of expressing their spirituality predates Pedro the Lion, Moby, Living Sacrifice, and Stryper... And from a local standpoint, Thee Crusaders, Carl Newman’s somewhat creepy genre exercise from a while back, have met their match. Can a split EP be in the works?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Jeff Littrell from the JPT Scare Band was kind enough to get in touch with me after I wrote a short review of his band’s Sleeping Sickness retrospective on Monster Records. What’s more, he sent along a couple new releases, Past is Prologue (another retrospective, but with more recent material), and their new single, “Wino,” which, in true Scare Band fashion, is nine minutes long.

Past is Prologue
Opener “Burn In Hell” is a 2001 recording of an old Scare Band song from 1974. The sound is much more polished than the home-fi sonics of the Sleeping Sickness material, with lots of studio reverb applied to everything. But this excellent number (it’s becoming one of my Jeff/Paul/Terry favourites) goes to show how good they are when stripped of all that mystique-enhancing scuzz. The song itself is an early Rush or Budgie-styled slow-burning number, with a lengthy solo from guitarist Terry Swope. The guy is just all over the place as always. Although the Scare Band is definitely his vehicle, I don’t think the solo work would be half as majestic without the fuzzed-out Rickenbacker support of bassist Paul Grigsby. And when the solo ends, there’s some great tom-tom work from Mr. Littrell to usher the last verse in.

“I’ve Been Waiting” is next, another deliberate head-nodder of a track, and another example of solid songwriting from a band that seems to have made the free-form jam its claim to notoriety. The band describes this song as a tribute to Ozzy and Black Sabbath, and I can see it to an extent, especially in the vocal delivery. The song itself isn’t pastiche at all, though. It’s very much in the JPT vein. After a while, the guitar drops out and Grigsby gets a chance to solo, and holy jeez, is it ever cool. And despite the fact this song was recorded eight years before “Burn In Hell,” he’s got the same monster tone happening. Even when the guitar solo takes off, my ears are still riveted to the bass line. Again, the sound is much cleaner than on Sleeping Sickness (which contains a much rougher version of this same tune, with a bonus flute solo!), but it only proves what good musicians these guys are…something that wasn’t as blindingly obvious beneath the murk on the other album.

The single “Wino” follows, recorded at the same session as “I’ve Been Waiting,” I think. This is a cover of a folk song by Bob Frank. “This arrangement is slightly heavier than the original,” says the band. No doubt! This one reminds me of “Parents” by Budgie. The first guitar solo is incredibly tasteful and elegant, with clean Mark Knopfler tones. Sure, the solos are this band’s selling point, but check out that singing. Some soulful stuff going on here. For the second solo, Swope unleashes some wah-wah, the rhythm section picks up and everyone drives the number home.

The album then heads back in time to the Stone House on Crooked Road for 14 minutes of “Sleeping Sickness” in 1976. This is a killer song—really reminds me of Robin Trower. My favourite moment on this is right before the first solo, where the guitar volume rises, and the amplifier hum gets more intense—even before Swope hits the first note he creates a lifetime of excitement in that one brief second. It’s sort of the musical equivalent of Dr. Bruce Banner’s seams bursting as he transforms into the Hulk. You just know you’d be wise to take a step back. What Swope proceeds to do during the next 10 minutes is pretty much indescribable, tearing into his instrument like the fate of the world depends on it. After one amazingly intense passage he stops completely, letting the bass and drums power along for a bit. I can only imagine he had to step back and fan away the smoke spewing from his amp, guitar neck and fingertips. With that done, he comes back for another brief solo flurry before the last verse. “Sleeping Sickness” may be the definitive Scare Band song and recording, and one I’d play to anyone interested in hearing what the band is all about.

“Time To Cry” is another refugee from Sleeping Sickness. This one’s pretty freeform, and it doesn’t take long to get going before Swope starts giving his guitar a good thrashing and the rhythm section hangs on for dear life, summoning all their enthusiasm and tenacity to get them through these 13 noisy minutes. Actually, everybody locks in pretty quickly. To be able to jam this well, you’ve got to listen to each other carefully…and it’s clear that the Scare Band figured this out back in the early days. With about 6 minutes to go, there’s another bass solo, followed by off-the-cuff vocals that herald some more crazed soloing. Yeah, that one’s a keeper.

Next up is “Titan’s Sirens” from February 1975, which is the title track to an LP that Monster Records put out. Like “Time To Cry,” it’s another freeform one. More of a sustained peak than the flowing and ebbing “Time to Cry.” It’s over relatively quickly and works as a nice bridge into…

“Jerry’s Blues,” recorded a year later. The band really swings on this song. “Jerry” is one Jerry Wood, a legendary Wichita musician whom the Scare Band used to back up. It’s great to hear them work within this format. If they had a set of tunes like this, they could come to town and play the Yale. Not a bad idea to contemplate. There’s a great moment with about four minutes left where the band smoothly changes gears and moves from a shuffle to a four-on-the-floor feel and it sounds like they’re gonna go into Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” But no, it just sets the stage for some more nutty Scare Band action.

The last track is a bit of a teaser. “It’s Too Late” is one of their best songs, and the hit single from Sleeping Sickness in my opinion. Here it is again—backwards!

I’m really glad to have crossed paths with this band, and with Past is Prologue. It’s given me another perspective on the Scare Band and their music over the years. They’ve achieved a lot, and I think they’re going to accomplish much more. It just goes to show what I’ve always believed—you don’t need huge recording budgets or marketing campaigns or cutting-edge technology or an “image.” None of those things can replace imagination and a love for what you’re doing. There’s nothing more radical than people playing music in a room together. Nothing better either.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

The more I read of Sound of the Beast, the more I’m impressed by it. It’s almost desperate in its thoroughness, as if Ian Christe is scrambling to document an era that’s finished and destined to be forgotten. Perhaps the metal years are over and done with, and if this is the case, then Christe’s labours assume an air of nobility that other rock books can’t approach. It’s much more entertaining than the sociological studies of metal (by Donna Gaines, etc.) I’ve read, but it’s just as carefully documented.

Writing this book almost seems like an altruistic act, something for future generations to puzzle over and maybe learn from. That's a pretty naive thought on my part, though. Never mind the future—I wonder who the audience for this book is in the present day. I read books like this for the same reasons I enjoy hanging out and talking music with friends—to hear what someone else is into, and how they got into it and why, get recommendations, eyewitness accounts of gigs, etc. I often think these books preach to the converted or about-to-be-converted. I have difficulty imagining someone just casually picking it off the shelf and getting into it like I have.

Ultimately I don't care. He’s written the book for posterity, and that’s an admirable thing. I got it from the VPL, but I’ll probably buy a copy for my own library.

My only frustration is with the book’s American POV. The chapter on MTV don’t mean shit to me. Sure, I saw all those videos on MuchMusic, but that our video channel wasn’t nearly as omnipotent and censorious. There wasn’t as much of an “us vs. them” thing happening between the metal underground and mainstream music TV in Canada. I think the book could be improved with an addendum about the Power Hour and the cultural ripple effect of Celtic Frost’s “Circle of the Tyrants” video.


Monday, July 07, 2003

I’ve just started reading Sound of the Beast, Ian Christe’s new book on the history of heavy metal. The concept for such a book seems kind of facile, and in a lesser writer’s hands it might resort to a tedious band-to-band-to-band kind of structure. I don’t think this book will fall into that trap, however. The opening couple of chapters are mainly about Black Sabbath and their genre-defining Ozzy years. From there it’s zoomed through the seventies and into the NWOBHM without a letup in the narrative. At this pace I’d expect the book to be over in 30 more pages, but there’s about 350 left to go. I expect Christe will settle in and mine the eighties for all they’re worth.

It’s a pretty well-researched book. I can’t find much to question, except the contention that Sid Vicious died in jail. Can someone confirm that, please? Christe knows what he’s talking about, and he’s got quotes from people who’ll back him up. Tom Warrior’s on board, as is King Diamond, Jess Cox from Tygers of Pan Tang/Neat Records, and Brian Slagel of Metal Blade records.

In the chapter about the birth of Sabbath, Christe namechecks a raft of similarly heavy bands who were signed in '70-'71 and released a quickly deleted album or two. The trend for major labels back then was to create a subsidiary to release all their “heavy” albums on, in order to present a facade of underground counterculture and let the kids know that this wasn’t their dad’s stodgy old record company. Pye Records, for example, had Dawn (responsible for releasing First Utterance by Comus, one of the most flat-out insane albums I own), and EMI had their Harvest division (home of The Floyd and a ton of progressive folkies), and Philips had Vertigo, which released fine bands such as Cressida, Black Sabbath, and a band that Christe mentions alongside the Sabs, the “haunting” May Blitz.

(The Vertigo name survived well into the eighties. We all remember the $2.99 double LP Vertigo Sampler from 1985, a seminal release that introduced the Cult, Love and Rockets, Cocteau Twins, and many others to thousands of impressionable Canadians. Everyone I knew bought one of those. More recently, Mikael from Opeth can be spotted wearing a Vertigo shirt on the cover of the latest BW&BK.)

May Blitz were new to me, so I looked them up. Turns out they were a Hendrixian trio who released two albums in ’70 and ’71. I have no doubt that this is cool stuff, but what really intrigues me about them is that two of their members, James Black and Reid Hudson were Canadians—transplanted Victorians, in fact. Both of them apparently still live on the West Coast. I guess if I was Nardwuar, I’d begin stalking them now. But being me, I’d be happy just to hear one of the records.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

I've been checking out various music blogs via Metafilter this morning and feeling guilty about the tangents I've been traversing lately. There's no shortage of music to write about, so why am I neglecting it?

Stay tuned for more rock.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Fancylady and I had a belting time at the island last weekend. It took us a while to get moving after we got off the ferry though. My late Grandad’s Volare, our means of transport from the ferry to our place at Bennett Bay, gave us some grief. It usually starts after a couple tries, but the battery had gone seriously flaccid. With darkness closing in, the brave belter snagged the last-remaining ferry terminal employee, who kindly drove her pickup over and tried to give us a jump start. That didn’t work, so we called the island cab. We only got their answering machine. After leaving a couple messages with them, I tried the car one last time. I guess a charge had settled into the battery or the engine unflooded itself, because it finally started up (and ran fine for the rest of the weekend).

Good old Volare. It may be the sketchiest roadworthy car on the island, and looks especially rad parked by the minivans, Mercedes SUVs and F150s at the Miner’s Bay Saturday market. I’ll miss it when it finally gives up. When that day comes, instead of having it towed off the island, we should do something useful with it. Maybe we could seal up the interior, cut a pipe hole in the side, and bury it in the backyard as a spare septic tank. I think Grandad would approve of that kind of thrift.

So, the first night was pretty action packed. After we dumped our stuff at the house we went down to the water. The stars were out. We watched a meteor shower for a while until some kind of weird hellcat creature ran out and spooked us. (Probably a river otter, my dad says.)

I had the first encounter with a huge black spider. There’s always one when you first arrive, usually in the sink or some other source of dripping water. This time he was hiding under the rim of the bog, so once I’d got over the initial shock (he’d been that close to the old fella), it was a simple matter to flush the bastard.

We took the canoe out on Saturday. Bennett Bay is quite lake-like, so it’s good for a non-boater like me. As long as you stay away from the tidal currents that run between the main shore and the small islands at each end of the bay, it’s fine. The big challenge with the canoe is getting it down to and back up from the water. It’s damn heavy, and the handholds fore and aft threaten to slice your fingers off. It’s a two-person canoe in the water, and a six-person canoe when you gotta get it up the hill.

We hiked up Mt. Parke on Sunday. The weather was pretty blustery, and at the ridge on the top, the hawks and eagles were swooping above and below us. Looked like fun. There’s a nice view of Saturna, Pender, and points beyond. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail up the hill, which was good. I hate having to say “hi” to strangers going the other way. I guess it’s the hiker’s code, but you know…I don’t like strangers. On the way back we played tourist info service for a large group who were wondering whether they should keep going to the top. We promised they’d see some birds of prey and left them to it.

Monday was cleanup day, but we also made time for a walk out to the point and a quick trip into Miner’s Bay for gas at the station that may or may not be self-serve. We packed up and drove to Village Bay, where we bumped into the lady who gave us the eventual jump start on Friday night. “All through with your car adventures?” she asked as the belter bought our tickets home. Yeah, we were. Wouldn’t mind staying for a few more, though.