Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Think of the Children
As you might guess, I’ve made a few trips to A&B Sound for pre- and post-Christmas shopping. Lately they’ve set up big displays that follow
you all the way to the cashier, flaunting impulse buys for every age and taste. One of these shelves is marked “For Mom” and features the Bon Jovi box set, the new Brian Wilson album, and other mom-friendly audio/visual treats. Next to that display are racks of stuff “For Dad”—Sin City, the AC/DC catalogue, and the recent reissue/remaster of Van der Graaf Generator’s The Least We Can Do is Wave to Each Other. You mean people like me actually breed? If you know anyone whose dad asked for that in his stocking, call social services.

The VdGG remasters are actually pretty keen, and if I didn’t already own multiple copies of these albums I’d be snapping them up. The only reissue I’ve bought on sight is their third album, H to He Who Am the Only One (1970). I now own four copies of this record, sorry to say. But the new one has bonus tracks…spectacular ones! The first addition is worth the price alone—“Squid I/Squid II/Octopus” live and unhinged in the studio during the Pawn Hearts sessions in 1971. This is a 15-minute medley of early songs that formed a big chunk of VdGG’s live set up to the band’s implosion in 1972. It’s glorious to hear the band in full blow, just like you might have on the Six-Bob Tour. Listen to mad boffin Hugh Banton’s organ sing to the heavens then puke its guts out, or marvel at how he summons the heaviest sound in the universe for the rush to the song’s end. Reel from the unrelenting Guy Evans at the drum kit, almost willing the whole enterprise to fly apart while shouldering his rhythm section responsibilities with ease. Hammill in manic young man mode screams into the din, but for most of the track he backs off and lets his band do their thing. It’s thrilling to hear them play live in such a high-fidelity environment. Their BBC sessions captured some of the group’s raw energy, but lacked this recording’s ripped-to-the-tits spontaneity, and no bootleg from this era comes close sonically. The last song is an earlier take of H to He’s third track, “The Emperor in his War Room,” a gruesome, spiteful treatise on tyranny where a warmongering politician is visited by the ghosts of those he’s sent to death (“In the night they steal your eye from its socket/and the ball hangs fallen on your cheek”). Other than its spectacular lyrics and “War Pigs” worthy imagery (I think H to He is by far the most Sabbatherian VdGG album), this track is most famous for Robert Fripp’s guest appearance, sitting in on guitar. Although Fripp isn’t on this version, Jaxon lays down some extra flute where the guitar solo eventually appeared, marking this take as a carefully measured run-through for the heavier version that made it onto the album. Not something that’ll make you re-evaluate the larger work, but as an archival curiosity for fans, it’s gold. Keep it in mind for Father’s Day in case the old man really digs that copy of The Least We Can Do…

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Angels of Light—The Angels of Light Sing “Other People” (Young God)
This is an uneasy listen. Michael Gira’s voice demands that you pay attention. He sings/speaks these 12 songs/stories right into your ear. I can’t play this record in the background. It feels rude, like walking out of the room in the middle of a conversation. The “other people” of the album’s title are the subjects of each song—“friends, heroes, and various other entities beyond my control,” says Gira in the liner notes. The people include “My Friend Thor” with his disturbing drawings (one of which lurks behind the CD tray) and alarming sex drive, and Jackie, “dissolving a dream of a world that’s too small for the secrets he keeps,” and, most alarmingly, the apocalyptic spectre of Michael Jackson in “Michael’s White Hands” where Gira rails like a preacher: “Michael bring the truth denied/Michael kill that child inside.” Gira’s backing band here is Akron/Family, a recording act in their own right, who provide consistently surprising arrangements using traditional/folk elements such as mandolin, violin, banjo, slide guitar, handclaps, whistling—and barely any drums at all. Paired with Gira’s acoustic guitar strumming, the music almost steals attention away from the vocals, a third party joining a conversation that gets more rewarding each time I put this album on.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but a lot of the new bands I like are the musical equivalent of those societies for creative anachronism…you know, where librarians and computer programmers trade recipes for mead, don homemade chain mail vests, and have a bit of a joust on the weekend. Certain musicians take a similar approach to music, buying up old equipment and recording in analog to achieve their own vision of rock’s medieval period (i.e. 1974). Go to it, I say.

Norway's Wobbler are definitely of this ilk—a band desperate to be not of their time. As far as I can gather, lead guy and keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie was born in 1982, for chrissake (the year that marked the official death of progressive rock with the release of the first Asia album), yet he’s buying up barnfuls of vintage keyboards and writing florid-yet-menacing 27-minute epics like the post-hippy brave new world is at hand. The songwriting on their Laser’s Edge debut Hinterland is wild and wooly for sure—reflecting more of an influence from the restless Italian bands than the more stately British prog originators—with only differing elapsed time to distinguish the three main tracks on the album. Despite that lack of discipline, I’ve gotten a huge kick out of Hinterland, probably because I was around in 1982, head in hands as “Heat of the Moment” oozed from the radio. Having survived that experience, I’ll always have time for the Wobblers of the world.

When I did an email interview with Frøislie for the next Unrestrained!, I had to ask him about his arsenal of vintage gear. Which keyboard is his prize possession?

“I guess it would be my first Mellotron M400, serial number 1652 from 1976. It has never let me down to this day. I got it from the national radio in Bulgaria along with about a dozen other vintage keyboards. I basically bought the old prog band Formation Studio Balkanton’s studio. It was converting into a folk rock studio, so the keyboards were just in the way.”

Whereas a lot of keyboard players chicken out and use digital keyboards with patches and samples on stage, Lars goes for the full Rick Wakeman, bolstered perhaps by one of those backbraces favoured by Home Depot employees.

“On the last concerts I’ve had a Hammond C3 with Leslie 122, two Mellotrons, MiniMoog, Arp Pro Soloist, Roland Ep-10, Clavinet and Rhodes. It was hell lifting and setting up, and we used my father’s truck without any roof (thank God it didn’t rain), since it was the only one large enough.”

So do Wobbler and White Willow (whom Froislie also plays with) have the Norwegian prog scene all to themselves, or are there any other bands we should know about?

“It has been growing over the last few years. Prog rock has almost been accepted in the media in Norway, so it’s not as uncool as when we started up. There are not that many symphonic prog bands like us, but there’s Anti-Depressive Delivery (heavy rock/metal prog), Circles End (Canterbury/pop), Panzerpappa (RIO) and Gargamel (retro).”

Friday, November 25, 2005

Live: Opeth, Gov't Mule, Suffocation

What's with all these great shows coming to town? Maybe the strong CDN dollar is making the trip across the border less painful for bands, or maybe local promoters are getting hip to the fact that bands with no airplay can still fill a room. All I know for sure is I've been to so many shows lately that there's been no time to report on all of them in any detail. Here's a typical week at the Commodore last month...

Opeth, October 14. I was all set to fly to Toronto for Day of the Equinox on the 14th when they announced Opeth would be playing Vancouver the same day. Their drummer would again be a no-show (making him 0 for 3 in Vancouver), but they had a guy in place who could play a whole set...sounded promising. With Ghost Reveries confirmed as my favourite album of 2005, I decided to stay in town and finally take in a full-length Opeth set. I’m glad I did. After opening sets from STREETS and Fireball Ministry, Opeth came out with the one song I wanted to hear that night, “The Baying of the Hounds”—I swear, it was one of the high points of my life. The set was packed with monster epics, save for the one selection from Damnation, “In My Time of Need.” The biggest surprise for me was “The Grand Conjuration,” which I’ve always considered one of the least interesting songs on the new album. Since Opeth previewed it at the Sounds of the Underground fest last summer, it’s become a vast, shuddering cathedral of sound. Forget the album version, or the “single” edit with video, the live version is the one to experience. A couple of other minor revelations: A) Michael Akerfeldt is a brilliant yet down-to-earth guy who was put on this planet to become a huge rock star, and watching it happen these past few years has been a real pleasure...and B) Vancouver’s relationship to heavy metal has undergone a big shift from its long history of dismissal and mockery. Not only was the Commodore absolutely packed, but the Georgia Straight actually ran a respectful, expertly informed gig review (by Lucas Aykroyd) the following week.

Govt Mule & moe, October 16. All the advertising for this gig led me to believe that moe would be opening, not alternating the headline spot with Govt Mule during the tour. Unfortunately, the Mule was already on stage when we walked into the Commodore. Their set was punchier than the last time they came through town, with an emphasis on their shorter, more rocking songs—“Blind Man in the Dark,” “Bad Little Doggie,” etc. A point of comparison might be their chosen cover song for the evening. Last year it was a sprawling “No Quarter”; this time they performed a fairly straight reading of “I’m So Tired” by The Beatles. Moe countered with Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” (the percussionist replicated that song’s backwards cymbal effect quite nicely) early in their set to get the classic rock fans on their side. They didn’t have much else, unfortunately, besides crack musicianship and ease on stage.

Suffocation, with Cryptopsy, Despised Icon, and Aborted, Oct. 18. Back to the Commodore, an optimistically large venue for an uncompromising bill of brutal death metal. Belgium’s Aborted rocked hard in a nasty but accessible way. The kids in Despised Icon stuck out with their short hair and non-trad approach, although their tunes were as blast-happy as their tour mates. Their dual vocals lineup (two dudes pacing the stage screaming almost identically) struck me as a load of nonsense, but I don’t think Despised Icon earned the hatred that was expressed on the discussion boards after the show. Cryptopsy were back again with vocalist Lord Worm, who didn’t impress me last time when they played at the Brickyard. After seeing this show, I’ve come around to his whole deal. Lord Worm is not one to whip up the crowd; he’s got a low-key, subtly macabre vibe that takes some getting used to. While I better understand the ways of the Worm, I’m now less blown away by the material the rest of the band played. The whole set seemed to skitter by in a riffless maelstrom, with hyperactive speed canceling out the heaviness. Suffocation, pioneers in this whole brutal DM business, were the best band of the night. Terrance Hobbs is probably the best death metal guitarist I’ve ever seen, and vocalist Frank Mullen brought a certain New Yawk street-level charm to the event, along with some interesting stage moves, like some Al Jolsonesque hand gesturing during the blastbeat sections. Ha-cha-cha! Most importantly, the band were heavy in a way that Cryptopsy only flirted with, exemplified by songs, like “Pierced From Within” and “Liege of Inveracity,” that pick their moments to carefully grind a boot in yer face.

Friday, November 18, 2005

This Week’s Gigs
Smash and I went to see Removal at the Brickyard Wednesday night. We Trowered* it pretty well. They were playing their second or third song when we got in the door. The crowd was pretty thin, so I was glad we could bolster the numbers a bit. No matter how crummy the venue, Removal always sound tremendous—lean and uncluttered, with each instrument dialed in perfectly from the stage. The set was marked by a few little mistakes, but they played a couple new numbers, including a cover of “Anthem” by that other Canadian power trio.

Said hi to their drummer after the set and bought their new single, featuring guest vocalist Peaches. They’re venturing into CFOX land next Tuesday, playing The Roxy with The (excellent) Feminists. That’s a must-see show, despite the club in question. (Those Roxy ads every week the Straight make me nauseous.) I hope no one slips me a roofie.

*Trower (v): to show up late to a gig, derived from my friend Sox’s late arrival at a Robin Trower concert many years ago.

Tuesday night we saw the Dillinger Escape Plan/Hella/Between the Buried and Me/Horse the Band at The Red Room, another mediocre place to see (or partially see) a show. Because of the long line-up for ID and coat check, Horse the Band were already playing by the time we got in. They were a fantastic train wreck, rocking out with indomitable spirit, especially when their keyboard died in the middle of a song, an event that generated great hilarity among the rest of the band as they thrashed away.

North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me, one of the tightest, sickest bands on earth right now, only had half an hour (about five songs worth) to kill everyone in attendance. Kicking off with “All Bodies” from the new album was a good way to start, with its mix of technical death grind and sea shanty singalong parts. They followed that with “Autodidact,” “Alaska,” and “The Primer” from the new album, and a song from The Silent Circus to finish. It’s a shame they didn’t get to play longer—I would have liked to hear them pull off the insane “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” live—but all the bands were on a tight schedule tonight. If Mastodon don’t break big with their next album, BtBaM surely must be the next most likely purveyors of facemelt to cross over into the mainstream. Someone’s going to do it; it’s only a matter of time.

Hella’s freeform jazz-skronk was hard to digest. They would have fit nicely on the Sunn O)))/Boris/Thrones bill I saw last month, an event that made questions like “what kind of music is this?” and “can these guys actually play?” obsolete. At times, especially later in the set, I heard hints of melody and structure through the din, but not enough for a breakthrough into the enjoyment zone.

The Dillinger Escape Plan clearly thrive on pushing the limits of personal safety, blending musical and physical chaos into an awesome live experience. I’m not really a big fan, but I respect any band that pushes themselves as hard as they do—constant thrashing, hanging off the PA stacks, and jumping into the audience, all while playing rabid jazz/metalat a million MPH. They’re impressive performers and—not to forget--musicians, even if I don’t think they have songs of the same caliber as BtBaM. The Red Room, more packed than I’ve ever seen, erupted
for the whole hour DEP played.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I bought a copy of Rick Moody's last book,The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions, when I was in Toronto last August. It didn't get very enthusiastic reviews, but it was on the bargain table. What the hell; it's Rick Moody, it's cheap. Sold.

Early in the book, Having graduated from college with no job prospects, Moody and a friend drive to San Francisco in an unreliable VW Rabbit. To pass the time, Moody listens to King Crimson on headphones:

"The music of King Crimson, I recognize, is the kind of noodling, pretentious music that no one should admit listening to, even on headphones in the desert..."

I have to say I've found this book to be a disappointing effort.

Monday, November 07, 2005

We saw A History of Violence yesterday at the Van East, one of my favourite theatres. Willingdon Black and I practically lived there between 1986–1988, when they had $5 double bills of the most insane movies ever made—Aguirre the Wrath of God, Gimme Shelter, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, and so on.

I thought A History of Violence was an interesting departure from David Cronenberg's usual theme of the body rebelling against itself. On the other hand, Cronenberg's other big motif (or maybe it's a sub-theme of the body rebellion theme) is the Identity Crisis, and that's what this movie dwelled on. I enjoyed it a lot.

The theatre was frigid. I think they still had the AC on from the summer, and we must have been sitting right under the vent. I think it caused my body to rebel, and I've felt a cold coming on all day today.

Monday, October 31, 2005

I’m having a low-key Halloween. We carved a pumpkin and watched the Freaks and Geeks Halloween episode (featured music: Ted Nugent, "Free for All" and Cheap Trick, "Gonna Raise Hell") on the weekend. The episode is sort of famous for setting all its Halloween scenes in daylight, but otherwise it’s as brilliant as the rest of the series. My favourite moment in that show comes when Alan, the bully, happens upon our trick-or-treating heroes— Sam as robot Gort from the Day the Earth Stood Still, Neil, dressed as either Chaplin or Groucho, Harris as a guy with a knife through his head, and Bill doing an amazing turn as Jamie Summers, the Bionic Woman. The way Alan says, “Oh, my god!” with the perfect mixture of disgust and glee, you know the guys’ night is going straight downhill.

Although we all may not have had our asses kicked, our candy stolen, and gotten egged on Halloween, I think everyone can relate to that final night of trick or treating, when you knew you should have quit after last year. This episode nails that feeling perfectly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Super Robertson Show begat the Super Robertson King Show begat the Super Robertson Supper Show, which is where I went tonight. I hadn’t got two steps in when Super asked me to sit in on drums for the horn band (AKA the Legion of Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra). He might as well have asked me to never show my face at one of his shows again. So the horn band did their thing with a different drummer and a ranter doing a veggie rant and then 21 Tandem Repeats played a few of their workaday songs for the everyman who is a failure and knows it, and then This Young Person who’d been hiding in back of the Railway during the show came up and sat with her guitar on stage for about three weeks while the sound person sorted out her backing trax. Once her monitors were up, This Person played a few acoustic hip-hop tunes that (to be honest) weren’t worth the fuss. She had my sympathy, though. Anyone born in 1983 has my sympathy. When I was 22, my artistic output was embarrassing enough to warrant my euthanization, so kudos (even ‘props’) to This Person for her gumption. Maybe I'll play with the horn band next time, if they'll have me.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Seen and Heard Lately
The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau Live!
I finally found a nice LP copy of this at Neptoon a couple weeks ago. This features Breau on stage at Shelly’s Manne-Hole in 1969, sometimes solo, sometimes as part of a trio. Unbelievable guitar playing from start to finish, and covering a lot of styles; from jazz to Indian to Spanish. The sound is fantastically intimate and haunting, to my mind, knowing what I know about the poor bugger now. You can practically hear him disappear right into the guitar during the tunes, then come back to reality for some almost apologetic between-song patter. I wonder if that amazing film Breau’s daughter made about his life will ever come out on DVD.

Mare/Cursed/Terror/Converge at Mesa Luna, Sept. 24
A gig on a Saturday afternoon is quite a novelty. Mare were a trigonometric trio with a singer who sounded like a piglet being attacked with pliers. I can’t say they rocked, but their use of ethereal backing tapes was gutsy and interesting. Cursed upped the aggression factor a hundred-fold with some straight-up metal/hardcore. As Canadians back in this country after a long tour, they took a moment to appreciate the metric system with the crowd. Some bonding occurred. Terror are just awesome. I liked them after I saw them at the Sounds of the Underground fest this summer, and this set confirmed their greatness. Their music, which references the crossover thuggery of yesteryear, isn’t something I normally go for, but they perform it with such sincerity and passion and energy that they won me over in a minute. And god, the singer’s raps about scene unity and how hardcore saved his life, and the power of an open mind nearly choked me up a few times. Yay, Terror! Converge’s Jane Doe album has acquired a mystique one of the most terrifying records I own, and it was strange to see them in the flesh and realize they’re just four kind of regular guys, and regular guys having an off day at that. They definitely had a hard time of it. They’d just got off the plane from Japan and their drum set was falling apart, which resulted in their set having less impact than it might have had. They explained the situation, and though their exasperation showed through at times, they didn’t take it out on the crowd (except for the occasional chuckle at bad stage divers, which I attributed to their Bostonian sense of humour). They played well enough to hint at how lethal a Converge set under optimal conditions would be. Still, bodies flew, people sang into the mic when singer Jacob Bannon offered it—amazing to me because I can’t discern a word of Converge lyrics, even with a lyric sheet in front of me—and we all got out in time to get home to a hot supper.
Side note: Smash asked afterwards, “What was up with the kids in costumes?” I don’t know, but there were a couple kids there sporting a sailor outfit and a Mexican wrestler’s mask respectively. Is it a hardcore subculture thing? I’m hoping it’ll catch on, because I’d love to see pits at future shows full of sailors and cowboys and wrestlers and astronauts and Spidermen and ghosts doing those new-style kung-fu moves.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Even though they're as much a blight on this city as crystal meth and international students, I'll admit that I sometimes read a free daily or two during the week. I usually have to pick them up just so I can sit down, such is their proliferation.

Last Friday's 24 Hours published the results of a poll to determine the world's favourite song, which turned out to be Queen's "We Are the Champions." My pick, "By-Tor and the Snow Dog," didn't even crack the top 20. Even more surprising was that 24 Hours' photo editor chose a photo of a Freddie Mercury impersonator to run with the piece.

And bad mistakes, they've made a few...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Wetwork – Synod (Krankenhaus)
This album is world class in every way. From the arresting artwork (cybernetic anti-religious imagery by Mattias Norén of progart.com) to the flawless production (by Dan Hulse and the band) to tautly drafted songs superior to anything Morbid Angel’s released lately, Toronto’s Wetwork have delivered in savage style. Each member contributes something crucial. Vocalist Doc combines a Jeff Walker-style rasp with guttural imprecations, adding some disquieting clean singing at various junctures. Guitarist Bryan has a knack for merciless, palm-muted riffs and discordant fingerings that evoke the late great Piggy of Voivod. Bassist Chay alternates between grinding away alongside the guitars and claiming his own territory when the opportunity arises. It’s a bonus that he’s clearly audible in the mix, which is almost a novelty in this type of music, to my eternal regret. And to take things over the top, drummer Mezz elevates the whole affair to sustained levels of controlled fury with his crisp snare/kick attack and surprising cymbal flourishes. While my immediate preference is for bands who shamelessly mash up genres and employ extreme dynamic shifts, Wetwork’s relatively pure strain of death metal clicked with me from the opening track, “Prae Laetum.” I don’t want to label Wetwork’s style as melodic death metal, because in the hands of the accepted proponents of the style (and their blinkered b-league copyists) it’s a subgenre that bores me to death, but that’s what Wetwork undeniably play—with the emphasis on Death Metal. Imagine a collision between At the Gates and the Canadian Voivod/Gorguts tech-death tradition, and this is what you get. Synod packs a lot of highlights into its 38 minutes, including the syncopated chaos that erupts around the 2-minute mark of second track “Heaven’s Advocate” (the point at which this album’s lethal nature became apparent) and the grinding atmospherics of the brilliantly original “Nature of Repention,” which evolves into what could be almost be a jam, where the bass really comes forward and the guitar plays clean until heaviosity erupts anew. This song introduces the more experimental last third of the album, with both “Venison” and “Pontius Pilate” linking together to form a disturbing duo before the final track flails the last remaining patch of skin raw with a full-on burst of death metal. Listening to Synod puts me in the mind of Poe’s nameless narrator in the pit, assessing the razor-keen craftsmanship of the pendulum as it swings closer and closer. Synod has a similarly deadly trajectory.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I'm not a big fan of Steve Austin and Today Is the Day, but I certainly respect the guy. Here's what he has to say about "the increasingly diminished lack of dynamics—and integrity—in commercial metal" in the new Decibel magazine, a publication that's become a mandatory purchase every month:

"We need to be putting some motherfucking Miles Davis albums on and listening to some goddamn Bitches Brew instead of whatever the fuck people are loading their heads up on, thumping out the same old 'I am angry. I'm pissed off. I'm kinda cute and my jeans are just a little too tight on my ass.'"

Sound advice.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Black Mountain, September 13 at Richard’s on Richards
Smash pointed out on the drive home from this gig that it’s no good to describe music as “evocative” unless you mention what the music actually evokes. He gave the example of the sticker on the new Opeth album, which indeed claims the contents are “evocative.” What it really should say is that Ghost Reveries is evocative of early Genesis, Porcupine Tree, shafts of sunlight through cathedral windows, the high points of all other Opeth albums, the finest wines available to humanity, and a really good shag. I like it very much.

The Christa Min opened for Black Mountain, and they were evocative of a big dog let loose on a muddy trail—all energy and shaggy momentum. Unlike that runaway dog, though, it was difficult to tell how much fun they were having. When we used to play the Waterfront Cabaret, I remember someone in the seven-strong crowd telling us to smile onstage. I never forgot that. Because when you’re up there playing your strange songs to strange people, you should enjoy (and acknowledge to others present) the ridiculousness of your privileged position. Henceforth, I encourage everyone—not just performers—to smile, especially in this town, where too many people have adopted bitchface as part of the civic uniform.

S.T.R.E.E.T.S. were evocative of ’80s crossover bands, epic heavy metal, and, during certain dual harmony instrumental passages, The Fucking Champs. After the first two songs I thought “This is a job for Logan Sox,” but their material got better and more intricate as the set progressed. In the local metal for hipsters genre, I’d give them an edge over Three Inches of Blood.

Black Mountain were evocative of Can, PJ Harvey, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, the blues, breached levees, and the relief of exceeded expectations. Never having seen them live before, I thought maybe they’d be smug from local acclaim, content to trainwreck their way through the new album. Not a possibility, it turned out. Black Mountain were as solid and imposing as their name. The songs did lose some of their fine studio details in a live setting, but the fivesome (plus Masa, on occasional saxophone) more than compensated with their musicianship and control of dynamics, as they stretched out songs like “Druganaut” and “No Hits” with sexee, pulsating guitar & synth battles. Their music isn’t intricate on the surface; its complexity lies in the combination of tones and attack they use. A less-experienced band might deliver the same material as a tedious smudge, but the band I saw last night looked great, sounded great, and left me happy, unburdened, and wanting to hear more ASAP.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Give 'Til It Hurts
Walking along Kingsway this evening, I noticed a discarded piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. It had obviously served as a sign for a panhandler, who had described his plight in felt pen: "blue balls."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Mattias IA Eklundh — Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled (Favored Nations Entertainment)
Shred guitar albums can take one of two opposing approaches. The first is the portentous faux-classical approach, with featured guitarist as Paganini figure—the Malmsteen school, if you will. At the other end of the scale is the Satriani/Morse approach, with approachable, accessible chunks of shredding—some jazz fusion here, a little tech-metal there, with the off chance of getting on the radio and having a “Surfing With the Alien”-type hit. Mattias IA Eklundh is firmly in the latter camp on his second Freak Guitar album—unpretentious and fun, eager to please, and more than willing to show off his chops across a bewildering variety of material. The Road Less Traveled contains a synapse-scrambling 23 songs ranging in length from 15 seconds to 9 minutes. Eklundh, who doesn’t work with effects other than distortion, processes all the styles on this album through his own mental effects box, producing some enjoyably warped results. For example, his nylon string tribute to “The Woman in Seat 27A” could be a pleasant meandering number, yet it’s rendered unsettling by a backing track of menacing pizzicato strings and dripping water. One of the only songs to play it relatively straight is also the only vocal track, “Happy Hour,” which rocks along in unobtrusive 7/4 time. The album contains no information about backing musicians, so I assume that Eklundh programmed his backing tracks himself. If so, he did an amazing job; they’re more than up to the task of supporting all the shredding on offer. “There’s No Money in Jazz” sees “Flight of the Bumblebee” speed metal battling with staccato fusion passages (as the title hints, the metal wins out), “The Battle of Bob” showcases some prog insanity of near-Japanese intensity, and the Nintendo-core of “Insert Coin” sends you helplessly caroming around a short-circuiting pinball machine. His electro-bounce take on “Smoke on the Water” makes a nice companion piece to TOC’s similarly irreverent cover on last year’s Loss Angeles. Eklundh’s aim with this collection was to “make it easy for everyone to listen to and not just be a platform for showing off,” and he’s clearly succeeded. Guitar purists and old-school bluesmen might blanch at Eklundh’s over-the-top squeals and squalls, but anyone else interested in sonic extremes would do to well to strap themselves in for this album’s near-hour of six-string splatter.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

When he left Boston, Lincolnshire after teaching for a year at Kitwood School, my dad received a poem entitled “Ode to a Canuck” as a parting gift from the staff. It mentions the newborn me: “If Robert gets tired of Vancouver, you’ll know he’s an Englishman through and through.”

I do get tired of Vancouver, though I often don’t realize it until I go somewhere else.

I got back from Ontario last week. It was a three-leg trip, with three days in Toronto showing Cypress around the city, then renting a car and driving to Fancy’s parents’ place in Fulton, then leaving Cypress with the grandparents and driving back to Toronto for a three-day blowout of fun.

I like Toronto very much. As a non-car-owning person, the place has its shit together in ways that Vancouver never will. Although Vancouver has done well in maintaining a livable downtown core, Toronto simply crushes this town in terms of urban neighbourhoods. Rents are also pretty comparable to Vancouver, based on what we heard from our small sampling of friends.

As Adam Honsinger pointed out, the major drawback to Toronto is that you have to travel so far to escape from the place. On the West Coast, it’s not a big hassle to get away from people for a spell.

(For fans of Mr. Honsinger, our host for the first leg, he and Rain are doing great. He says they’ll probably move back to B.C. once the obligations keeping them in Ontario ease up.)

I met my Unrestrained! boss Adrian “The Energizer” Bromley during both stints in Toronto for fine dining on the U! expense account and some record shopping. He was nursing a fresh tattoo on his lower arm that I tried not to look at too closely, as the affected skin was threatening to flake off onto his pancakes. That aside, the Energizer is a top man and a fantastic tour guide. By the time I said goodbye, I had a serious case of Phonographic Digititis, AKA Album Finger, the grimy fingertip encrustation contracted from afternoons spent flipping through old LPs.

Adrian also let me pillage his shoeboxes full of promos, so I brought home a stupid amount of new music.

Fancy’s parents’ place was as weird as ever. Her folks are excellent hosts, but they (more precisely, her mom) can wear you down. We took advantage of the car to make a couple side trips to Hamilton and Niagara Falls. Hamilton is a bit like Toronto meets John Waters’ Baltimore, while Niagara Falls is crazily tacky and random, with a long avenue of gentlemen’s clubs and motels culminating in an explosion of arcades, fast food, thrill rides, spook houses and wax museums. And if you can tear yourself away from all that, you can walk down the hill and see the pretty waterfalls.

Back home on the grandparents' farm, Cypress caught frogs, packs of coyotes disemboweled sheep in the night, Fancy’s mom lamented the ulcers that would soon fester on her legs, and Fancy, Cypress and I played lots of Scrabble.

The final few days in Toronto were taxing but fun. The first two nights we stayed with Fancy’s hard-rocking high school friend Joan, drinking and dining almost exclusively at Sneaky Dee’s. I just laid low and supped pints while Fancy and friends got caught up and reminisced about their bizarro alternate universe where kids have fun in high school. Two nights of that and I was well into injury time and ready to lay off the ale for a bit... For our last night in Toronto we left poor Joan to sleep in her own bed again and called up Bonnie Bowman. Bonnie’s a riot and has a million hilarious stories, but she’s pretty nocturnal. We managed to keep up the pace, though, and hit the pit about 4 am. We slept till noon, grabbed some breakfast and got a cab to the airport.

The overbooked flight and the non-service of the Air Canada crew left us wishing we’d stayed in Toronto. Our first day back in Vancouver wasn’t very joyous (except for sleeping in our glorious bed), and I felt zombified and disconnected from everything and everyone. Then the next evening, I got a potent dose of Super Robertson after I bumped into him out on Main. We compared notes on Air Canada (the Super family returned to Vancouver from Toronto the same day we did, sans luggage) and had a laugh and I felt a lot better. Just the man I needed to see to get me grounded in this town again.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

This entry arises partially out of the need to fill some column inches and tamp the Bee Gees down, out of your line of sight.

I just finished working on the new issue of Unrestrained! (should be out by the end of August). In addition to the copyediting, I did three stories for #28—Circus Maximus (righteous Norwegian prog-metal, just the way blacknblues likes it), Frameshift (in which we learn of the dangers of hiring Sebastian Bach to sing your concept album about human tendencies towards violence), and Presto Ballet.

For the last piece I talked to Kurdt Vanderhoof, who wrote all the music for the project in between his main gig with Metal Church. Presto Ballet is a riotous take on seventies American pomp-prog—sort of a cheekily grand illusion of The Grand Illusion. Twenty-five years ago it would have been all over the radio, which is mildly interesting to ponder, but that kind of hypothetical crap doesn’t help Vanderhoof’s cause. He’s not worried about airplay anyway; he’s just enjoying working in his studio and being the old-school rock guy.

Here are some bits I transcribed but had to cut out of the article.

[ME] Do you still have to sacrifice as much as you used to in order to play music?

[KV] Oh, absolutely—any kind of stability, any kind of relationship, any kind of money. I’m still pretty much living the way I was when I was 19…which gets a little bit old, but you get used to it.

You’re a big fan and advocate of analog sounds and analog recording. Does it freak you out that they’re not manufacturing recording tape anymore?

Uh-huh.

Where’s it going to come from?

They’re still manufacturing it, but the bigger companies aren’t doing it as much. It’s more boutique now. Smaller companies are still making it, because most of the major industry studios and producers and stuff still want analog tape. There’s definitely still a market for it, but it’s not enough of a market to keep the big companies going, like Quantegy, Ampex, and BASF. There’s not enough recording studios, because most of us who work in the studio or own studios, the demo market is completely gone because people, instead of spending $3000 to make a good demo, they just go spend $3000 and buy themselves a digital rig for home. They don’t go spend the time in the studio. The big studios are almost all gone unless you’re a major, major studio. But for the rest of us, you can still buy tape, although the big companies quit making it. I just found this out about six weeks ago; you can still get tape. It’s a little more expensive and you have to really know where to go look. You can’t just go buy it like you used to. Tape sounds better and everybody knows it.

So obviously your studio is equipped with a tape deck.

Yeah, two-inch tape, exactly.

Have you made any concessions to computer recording?

Yeah, I have my own digital rig here in my house and I do my writing on it, which is fantastic for the creation process. I’ll totally give digital the tip of the hat in that respect, for the writing, but for actually putting out finished products, it still sounds like crap. It’s a great tool for the creation process. Sitting in front of my computer, the shit you can do is amazing, but it’s nothing that I would ever use to put out a finished product. It’s just for coming up with the ideas. The cut-and-paste editing is just amazing to try new arrangements, and it sounds good, but it doesn’t sound like a record. It beats the hell out of the old cassette four track.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

In 1978, my Aunt Ev and Uncle John got me this poster for Christmas.

I remember I opened it alone, unfurling it only enough to see their faces, then shoving it under my bed in horror. Good thing I just took a peek, because seeing Maurice's profile probably would have blinded me, then killed me. Great. Anyway, my holidays had been ruined.

I think this is also why I share Fancy's dislike of white pants. "I invite your stains," they say. No thank you.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Hate Eternal, Krisiun and Into Eternity at the Red Room

I decided to go see Hate Eternal, Krisiun and Into Eternity at the Red Room (formerly The Drink) on Thursday, July 7. It was a last-minute thing, because the show looked like it wasn't going to happen—bands were dropping off the bill, generating rumours that the headliners wouldn't complete the western leg of the tour. The gig went ahead, though, minus Jungle Rot and All Else Perished. No great loss there, in my view.

Into Eternity were quite excellent, with twin leads from hell and the right amount of math to keep me interested throughout (i.e., lots). Lead singer Stu hails from Vancouver, and his parents were there to witness the spectacle. He's got a tremendous voice, with air-raid siren qualities to rival Bruce Dickinson and John Arch. Even better, the rest of the band can also sing, which means there's never a dull moment for both band and audience as the wheedling/growling/wailing/thrash/death/prog mayhem unfolds.

I'm not into Krisiun and their no-frills brutal death metal. I remember reading a live review of Kreator back in the day that described them as "Accept warped by the Chernobyl fallout." Well, if that was true, then Krisiun are like Kreator mutated by every toxic event in the two decades since. I'll admit that the Brazilian trio incorporate some catchy riffs here and there (that came across surprisingly well on stage), but if a band's intent is to be the fastest/heaviest, then I need some eccentricity to temper the po-faced punishment. The Brazilian trio don't offer much beyond plentiful blasting and dive-bomb soloing, but the crowd loved their brutal metal of death. Between-song patter included the obligatory "when in Vancouver" shout-outs to Blasphemy.

I came to check out Hate Eternal mainly because of Derek Roddy's ridiculous performance on their latest, I, Monarch. The man is a phenomenal drummer, a fact reflected by the cluster of drum nerds watching the show from the side of the stage. They got their money's worth. I watched from a distance for most of the gig, then wandered down for a closer look during their last number and saw some unbelievably fast fingertip blasting. Hate Eternal overall are less nutty than Morbid Angel (guitarist/vocalist Erik Rutan's former band), but maintain the elder group's dedication to disciplined, musicianly death metal. They didn't burn many musical memories in my brain (beyond the immediate impact of their instrumental athleticism), but H.E. were an impressive act to end an ultra-heavy evening anyway.

Next up, with any luck, will be Sounds of the Underground, with Clutch, Opeth, High on Fire and 856 metalcore bands.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

I borrowed the Judas Priest "Metalworks: '73–'93" video from the Logans' house a couple weeks ago. It's your basic history of Priest, with an emphasis on promotional videos and assorted TV footage. The Rocka Rolla-era Old Grey Whistle Test segment is sterling, with the band sporting a gypsy/glam look, velvet-tressed and satin-dressed. Songs from the following handful of albums (lean times for our boys, even if they were hitting an artistic zenith) are featured via live footage from 1983.

Priest returned to the airwaves once the NWOBHM took hold. The real gems of the tape reside in this era, between 1980 and 1983. The video for "Living After Midnight" features Rob Loonhouse, the humble air guitarist-cum-folk hero who stole the 20th Century Box documentary on Iron Maiden's Early Days DVD. Here he is again, playing his cardboard guitar in a Judas Priest video—brilliant.

"Breaking the Law" uses the classic music-vid gambit of showing an authority figure succumbing to the liberating power of heavy metal. Halford and the band rob a bank (subduing customers and opening the vault by pointing their guitars at them), while the security guard on duty dons Rob Loonhouse's trademark reverse Flying V cardboard guitar and unconvincingly rocks out. Thus Priest make their getaway.

The real corker is the video for Point of Entry's "Hot Rockin'." The director stages a hilariously literal interpretation of the lyrics, so that when Halford sings the opening line—"I've done my share of working out"—the band are, yes, working out (shirtless) on a universal gym. Come chorus time, Downing/Tipton/Hill/Holland are showering, while Halford is in the sauna, ladling water over hot rocks. This is not the way to dispel rumours. For the rest of the song, the band take the stage, where their instruments and Rob's mike catch fire, so hot is the rocking.

Other than the clips from Heavy Metal Parking Lot later in the tape, the laughs stop there. Sure, there's more ludricrous crap, including the musical and visual nadir of Ram It Down's cover of "Johnny B. Goode," featuring stage divers, for godsakes, but the low-budget good humour has been replaced by cynical, business-driven misjudgements of a band desperate to keep filling hockey barns tour after tour.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Last Thursday I went to the Brickyard with Smash to see The Atomic Bitchwax, headlining a four-band heavy rock bill. We missed The Belushis, but made it in time to see Hezzakaya. They’ve got a good live act together, with lots of high-volume stoner sludge and cool collages of images projected onto them and the back of the stage. Their singer faced 90 degrees away from the crowd and hollered into the wings. I find it frustrating when a band has two guitarists that constantly play the exact same thing, which was the case here. Maybe they’ll work out some dual-axe arrangements in the future and let the music breathe a little more. Right now they seem intent on pummeling as a unit, and they pummel well. Mendozza, a trio in the Electric Wizard/Sleep vein, went on next. You’ve really got to be able sell it to make that basic kinda riff rock work, and they did a good job of convincing me that they meant every damn power chord. It helped that they had some good songs that allowed each player to back off or drop out and lend a smidgeon of dynamics to the din. The Atomic Bitchwax were stupendous, in an elite class they surely share with Clutch and maybe a couple other bands that operate within, often above, the stoner rock realm. They began by playing the main theme to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (for maximum Mule appeal) before racing into “Stork Theme” from their first album. Drummer Keith Ackerman must have been warming up backstage because he laced into this “Moby Dick” doppelganger in well-limbered form. I was surprised by how many songs from their debut were in the set—“Birth to the Earth,” “Hey Alright,” “Kiss the Sun,” “Shit Kicker” and so on. The new album got its share of stage time as well, including their effortless and reverent cover of “Maybe I’m a Leo.” As someone who’s tried and failed to cover Deep Purple with various bands over the years (mass graves of mangled Smoke on the Waters and Space Truckings haunt my past), I can appreciate the talent it takes to pull that off. The Atomic Bitchwax can swing. They can also venture way out there, where it sounds like all three of them are soloing at once, before they reel the song back in for the big finish. New guitarist Finn Ryan is the perfect replacement for Ed Mundell (who left to focus on Monster Magnet), with a mellow, self-assured presence and an ability to rip shit up with a Telecaster and wah pedal. Just like their new album (38 minutes of relentless excellence) the set was action-packed, well paced, and more than enough evidence that The Atomic Bitchwax are the class of their field in 2005.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Fancylady assigned me the task of picking six of my favourite songs these days, so I now present a short playlist:

Porcupine Tree — "Mellotron Scratch"
A beautiful little song off of Deadwing. In between the space metal epics, Steve Wilson likes to redirect the flow with simple yet devastating interludes like this.

Blue Oyster Cult — "Hot Rails to Hell"
I found a copy of Tyranny and Mutation at Apollo Music a few weeks ago—best $1 I've spent in ages. I'm pretty sure that Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner spun this song repeatedly as pasty schoolboys. "Warsaw" here we come.

Napalm Death — "Silence is Deafening"
"Their silence is deafening/from the havens of thieves and kings." I'm still coming to terms with how good the new Napalm album is.

The Atomic Bitchwax — "The Destroyer"
Another leadoff track, this one from the new TAB album. Love the verse, love the chorus, love the two-note vamp that propels the whole thing.

High Tide — "Futilist's Lament"
The filthiest guitar sound to ever saturate a tape. Tony Hill showing fellow Tonys Iommi and Bourge the way in 1969.

Bjork — "Submarines"
A choir of Bjorks duets with a choir of Robert Wyatts in some uncharted deep sea trench. It's a whole other world down there.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I listened to Max Webster's Mutiny Up My Sleeve tonight and thought about my friend A in Toronto. Fancy's going to be in Toronto next week, where she'll no doubt get to hang out with him and the lovely R for a bit. A once claimed I could get Fancy into Max Webster by getting her really high and putting Mutiny... on for her. It is one of the more chilled-out Max albums, what with "Hawaii" and "Astonish Me" and "Water Me Down" all being pretty languid affairs. I prefer the Zappa-ish stuff, like "The Party," which has one of the coolest song endings in history. I'll never take A's advice, though, because he and I are of a certain age that remembers quality FM radio broadcasting, while Fancy is of a certain other age for which Max Webster = Kim Mitchell = "Patio Lanterns" on Video Hits = projectile vomiting. And that's OK.

I love that the lyric sheet for this album is in both official languages. Just like the cereal boxes, eh?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I blame the BraveBoard for the dropoff in posts in recent months. I'm wasting way too much time and too many music-related thoughts there. They're a great bunch of kids, though, and I've picked up many a fine record based on their recommendations lately.

Of course, I never linger anywhere unless there's comedy to be had. A recent thread that polled Braveboarders on when they first had sex resulted in one indignant celibate claiming that "Metal is all about living with your parents, being single, having a shitty job, and masturbating constantly!" The voice of the otherwise-silent majority.
The old codgers in Van der Graaf Generator got back together in 2004 and released their first album in nearly three decades earlier this year. I've finally heard it now. I moderated my expectations and avoided taking the orgasmic praise of both the album (Present) and their live shows to heart. So why haven't I immediately fallen in love with it?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Female Trouble

We watched Female Trouble last night. Although it's easily one of my top ten movies ever, it does wear me down after the first hour. Still, there's Divine's trampoline act to look forward to in the last third of the flick.

I think my favourite throwaway moment in the movie is in the scene where Dawn invites The Dashers, her new patrons, over for dinner. When she asks the Dashers if they would like their spaghetti "with or without cheese," Donna Dasher replies, "I'll have two chicken breasts, please," as though she's ordering in a restaurant. I've always wanted to try that line at a dinner party, but no one would get it, and I'd feel awkward and ashamed.

Female Trouble is over 30 years old now, and though a lot of its political and criminal references have been obscured by subsequent decades of headlines and horrors, the whole idea of "crime is beauty" is still completely relevant. Why do you think The Province puts that horrid little scag Kelly Ellard on its cover whenever it gets the chance? The Province looooves Kelly Ellard and her ratlike face...almost as much as it loves her crime.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Grant Hart at the Lamplighter

I went to see Grant Hart a few weeks ago at the Lamplighter.

We arrived too late to see The Cape May—too bad, because I enjoyed their set at Mesa Luna a while back. The Doers, second on the bill, were a spirited mob, acoustic based but more akin to the Minutemen than anything overtly folky. The bassist was nimble of finger, the drummer flailed and the guitarist sweated. They played lots of short, busy songs. Members of Black Rice joined them on stage—one took pictures and another sang a number.

Everyone had a different hearsay-based preduction about Grant Hart’s set. My old buddy Kick (last seen at the Motorhead show) thought he might just play a couple token Husker Du songs. Brock Pytel thought Grant might have a full band to back him up. After the Doers set, the drums stayed set up on stage, and a couple amps were left behind. Then Grant, long haired and portly, got up and rearranged the stage, moving the drums aside and repositioning his amp. The amp was at full volume and the movement shook the internal reverb—crash! Everyone in the club shuddered at the noise. This did not bode well. Neither did his shaky rendition of opening number "The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill." Though it's one of my favourite songs of all time, Hart muffed a couple chord changes and stopped the song dead in the middle to tell a club tech not to turn on the stage lighting. It was a shame that he had to sacrifice the song for the purpose of ironing out the kinks. The rest of the set went much more smoothly. He did play a ton of Husker Du material, surprisingly enough, as well as solo stuff like "2541" and "Last Days of Pompeii." He took requests (Brock asked for "Flexible Flyer" and one of the Black Rice kids got him back up on stage for an encore of "No Promises Have I Made") and was strangely obliging throughout. With his catalog of crushing songs, I was expecting him to really take command of the set, but he never did. Near the end, when he looked like he was contemplating ending the set, he said, “Well, I hope you got to hear the songs you wanted to hear.” He seemed almost resigned to the duty of being a one-man Husker Jukebox.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Rockcritics.com celebrates Circus magazine.

Blackout, the first band I was ever associated with, used to practise in Mike Schmidt's mock tudor/Germanic basement on Huxley Ave. Between run-throughs of Willingdon Black's "The Things You Do" and air banding to News of the World we'd read Circus, inhaling some rancid inspiration from the heady waft of rock & sleaze & teenage lust emanating from its pages. Although, as the rockcrit commentary says, Circus was a somewhat staid cousin to Creem magazine, it packed enough thrills and oddities to keep some kids in Burnaby entertained.

One of our favourite parts of Circus was "Into Your Head," the teen advice column tucked away in the back. It was sort of a Dear Abby for the earth shoes and Big Blue jeans set. Never mind what Gene Simmons or Ted Nugent had to say up front, the real freak scene was "Into Your Head." The best letter ever was from a young woman troubled by her obsession with Freddie Mercury. All other guys, she claimed, were shit compared to Freddie—the only way she could endure encounters with her boyfriend was to imagine it was Freddie making sweet love to her instead, probably on white satin sheets. Indeed, she was in urgent need of counselling.

Despite being 12 and not suspecting what Freddie's true preferences were (or would become), this poor girl's letter was still the most ludicrous thing we'd ever contemplated. I still wonder about her and whether she got over her debilitating Freddie fixation. Did she have flings with a string of "hot cops" in a quest to snare a surrogate Freddie, or did she snap back to reality with a sickening jolt once she heard Hot Space?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Primordial — The Gathering Wilderness (Metal Blade)

Ireland’s Primordial are one of my favourite black metal bands partly because they’ve grown beyond the conventions of the genre. Instead of grooveless blasting, their rhythms surge at a satisfying pace; instead of adding keyboards to affect cod-symphonic majesty, they build their atmospheres with good old guitars/bass/drums; and instead of screeching, buried vocals, AA Nemtheanga’s singing is understandable and up-front, and of varying timbres—similar to My Dying Bride’s Aaron with his alternating wailing/growling style. Primordial have done some label hopping in their decade together: The Gathering Wilderness is their first for Metal Blade and fifth overall. Despite this instability, they’ve never stopped honing their sound, and here it is spread over an hour of savage, passionate metal, captured with the perfect balance of grime and clarity by doom-master Billy Anderson. Primordial’s main concession to black metal philosophy is their reverence for heritage. They’re aggressively Irish in both their music and lyrics. Their riffs have a pronounced Celtic feel, with broad-stroked strumming that I can imagine working well in an acoustic context. The drums are often tribal, like a mighty bodhran of the gods, as you can hear in the introduction and denoument of the first track, “The Golden Spiral.” This approach manages to retain the uneasy dischord of black metal, and thankfully never descends into Riverdance-style kitsch. The words, written exclusively by AA Nemtheanga, use a lot of nature imagery—the first track alone incorporates the wind, rain, the sky, streams, and forests—to evoke the mysterious forces that beset us; again in keeping with a lot of black metal. “The Coffin Ships,” the album’s emotional centerpiece, is devoted to the Irish famine of 1845–49, when Ireland lost 3 million people to starvation and emigration. (This info courtesy of AA’s booklet notes, another indication of Primoridial’s desire to communicate to its audience.) Primordial also retain black metal’s apocalyptic/genocidal sensibility, unafraid to depict carnage on a massive scale, as they do on the title track where Nemtheanga, personifying the terrible maelstrom gathering to cleanse the world, doles out punishment to men, women, and children "with a rusted blade across their throats." Like Sabbath before them, however, the message behind the lyrical grand guignol is cautionary and moral. Primordial’s strength, their singular style, perhaps contributes to the album’s only weakness, which is a lack of variety between tracks. Each song uses the same rhythm at different velocities, and lasts for 8 or 9 minutes. I would have welcomed one or two digressions, like the sparse, nearly a cappella "Solitary Mourner" from A Journey's End, to disrupt the uniformity of song. Still, it’s not so bad to be overconsistent if you’re consistently good—which Primordial are here.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Mel and Adam’s Wedding, May 2 to 7, Kaanapali Beach, Maui
When we checked in at the Maui Kaanapali Villas, the first thing I had to sign was a form waiving the hotel of any responsibility for our deaths in the ocean currents. The next day, though, I was happily floating in the sea, just beyond the breakers. The waves were fun to play in too, but they could deposit a diaper-load of sand in your suit if you weren’t careful. Cypress and the other kids loved getting smashed in the surf, playing Tsunami. We were still rinsing sand of her hair after we got home.

The water was unbelievably clear and warm, free of the seaweed and other swimmer-unfriendly crud that fouls the ocean here. Actually, fancylady found a lone floating clump of brown spongy stuff while sculling around on her back. She immediately used it as a merkin, and I nearly inhaled a lungful of the Pacific.

I went cold turkey in Hawaii, spending almost a whole week without any rock. I think my ears needed a rest anyway, coming off a long stint of Unrestrained! work, reviewing stuff, and metal this and metal that. A couple people in the wedding party had rooms with stereos, but ours didn’t. We did have two TVs in our suite, so we alternated between Comedy Central and Animal Planet during our downtime.

I did experience a very light brush with rock royalty during the trip, though. Mel and Adam took us to Maui Tacos twice, where they not only make a damn good burrito, but they’ve got pics of famous customers on the wall, including Alice Cooper and Sammy Hagar!

The wedding was Wednesday at sunset on the beach. Cypress was flower girl and passed out leis to everyone. The justice of the peace was this super cool woman who used to live in Victoria. Mel and Adam did a great job with the vows and afterwards endured the thousands of photographs like troopers. I took a few myself—the Taysers are undeniably cute.

Adam’s dad’s digital camera was quite a conversation piece. It was the size of a brick and used floppy disks for storage. I’ve been in the market for a digital camera for a while; I think want one just like that now.

After the ceremony we all went into Lahaina for dinner at I'o—one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. Great food, unbelievable service. Our waiter handled our 14-person table and didn’t break a sweat. The dude had his shit together. Fancy and I had this macadamia nut-encrusted brie appetizer that nearly killed us with goodness.

The whole trip was nice—we had the nicest hotel on the nicest beach surrounded by (for the most part) the nicest people. We needed more time in Maui. We have to go back someday.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Can – Tago Mago (Spoon)
This is what happens: “Paperhouse” is a gently swinging, pretty song for the first two minutes. Waves of radio interference try to intrude, but can’t disrupt the gentle flow. At the two-minute mark, however, the drums ramp up into a pulsing war beat, signaling a fierce jam with battling guitars, reminding of the Stones at their most midnight ramblin’ depraved. The song settles into a restless reprisal of the introduction before there's a quick edit into more war drums. Just as I think the song is coming to rest, there’s another edit into “Mushroom,” funky reverberating drum beat, ebbing and surging in synch with Damo Suzuki’s whispered and screamed rantings while guitars and organ send tentacles into the sky, which explodes to repel the intrusion. Static rains down, out of which “Oh yeah” emerges. Suzuki sings backwards and reversed cymbals hiss over a brisk beat. The organ keeps airbrushing the sky. After the next spate of thunder, the vocals turn the right way around again, although I still can’t understand a word. The music fades to mark the end of side one.

"Halleluhwah" doesn’t ask for an invitation; it just starts, bass and drums locked in for the duration, laying down what Miles Davis and co. would do “On the Corner” a few years later. Suzuki free associates for a bit about a moon shadow coming down, finding riffs and melodies just as the other instruments do. Percussion overdubs roll over top, a violin streaks across it all. The drummer’s a machine; he’s not letting go of that beat. The rest of the band relaxes and begins throwing in everything they can think of, positive this thing’s not going to wreck. Eventually the drums join the party, taking the band up and up, climbing to a point you know they’ll have to jump and when they do, it’s just right; a little of the cacophony lingers when that beat starts again. The party fades abruptly because the side’s over.

“Amugn” is random and spooky; far more ill-willed than anything Pink Floyd ever put on record. As the tape begins rolling, all instruments are thrown into an echo chamber, where insects devour them. The band observes from behind the mixing board, randomly twisting the pan pots. Satan himself steps up to the mike and moans into the abyss. The insects stop eating the instruments and begin learning to play them. They link limbs and form prehensile clusters resembling human appendages. There’s a dog loose in the studio! The insects concentrate on the drums, bashing them with their massed exoskeletons. Their excited buggy shrieks cross the threshold of human hearing. The documentary of their accelerated evolution lasts 17:37.

Damo Suzuki and the rest of the band enter the echo chamber for “Peking O,” for more jarring space improv. A keyboard demo bossa nova pattern strikes up, Suzuki croons over top. Screaming takes over, as he converses with the other instruments...the electric drum device thumps like a helicopter overhead...someone hammers boards in the background. With a couple minutes to go, they find a pulsing groove to follow and the song at least finds a beat. “Bring Me Coffee Or Tea” is a comparatively calming raga with buzzing pseudo-sitar and drums that skitter over top the drone, almost erasing the distress that the second half of the album has wrought. It picks up momentum as it goes and it sounds like the band is having fun using their freakout talents for good, not evil. That's what happened. It was 1971.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Anvil Press launched a new book last Saturday, which means I have something to read on the bus this week. Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer is a collection of columns that Stuart Ross wrote for Word: Toronto's Literary Calendar. You get Stuart’s thoughts on small press publishing, poetry, the writerly existence, and so on. It’s a book for the publishing in-crowd, which is not to say that you won't get something out of it. It’s actually full of stuff that any writer can relate to. Better yet, most of the pieces are brilliantly funny. Even though a lot of his jokes and references swoosh over me like an errant Frisbee, he manages to couch them (and repeat them) in a way that I eventually “get it.” Stuart’s also very quotable—Anvil uses a blurb from the book in their spring catalogue. I'd like to quote all of "How Not To Write" (page 76) here because it's so funny and true, but I think I'd be violating copyright. I cracked a smile a bunch of times reading it, a remarkable feat when I've got my "bus face" on.

Stuart writes a bit about music in this book, and I'm on comfortable ground again when I see the names he drops. I definitely get it when he says "Robert Wyatt fucks my brain up." I got inspired to put Cuckooland on when I got up today...sort of like a morning shag for me head.

The launch, though not well attended, was a happy convergence of people and objects. Purolator delivered the books from the printers in Saskatchewan that morning and Stuart arrived at his launch having driven 87 hours from New Denver. Whew! on both accounts.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I went to see Motorhead at the Commodore last night. Good old Motorhead. I think I wrote a review last time they were in town, so go read that if you can find it; I’m sure the bulk of it still applies. This was their 30th anniversary tour, but there weren’t any real surprises like, say, a guest spot with Fast Eddie or a Hawkwind medley or something. The biggest novelty was probably the acoustic encore of “Whorehouse Blues” with Phil and Mikkey on guitars and Lemmy blowing a harmonica. Once they’d dispensed with that, it was back to "Ace of Spades," "Overkill" with its nine false endings, then lights up, go home.

Of the openers, we caught the last half of the last song of Damn 13 (the show started earlier than advertised in the Straight). Three Inches of Blood did fine with the hometown crowd, but weren’t my cup of mead. Corrosion of Conformity delivered their ferocious doom boogie like the chops-monster rock stars they are.

Between COC and Motorhead I was accosted by a tall bearded guy. “Hey, I used to book you at The Waterfront. You were the drummer in that fuckin’ awesome band, what was it called—Decline of the Western World!” Well, it was Decline of the English Murder, but I’d never expect anyone to remember that. As for my memories, I don’t recall feeling too awesome playing at the holding pen for societal casualties that was The Waterfront. I tried my best to bring Mr. Kick up to date on my and Alick’s activities before he gave me a flyer for his new band and took off back to the bar. It was a night for people who are in it for the long haul.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dead Meadow with Jennifer Gentle and The Out Crowd at The Brickyard, April 8

Great to have DC’s Dead Meadow in town. Their excellent new album, Feathers, perfects the refinements they’d begun with Shivering King and Others, attaining a fine, if improbable, melding of Sabbath and Galaxie 500. I was looking forward to the show.

Of the first two bands, The Out Crowd played a short, enjoyable set, sounding like Teenage Fanclub or the Posies with a serious garage-rock bent. Jennifer Gentle had some genuinely interesting songs (Syd Barrett’s unpredictable melodies colliding with “Harold the Barrel”-style restlessness) spoiled by genuinely annoying singing (Elmer Fudd does Kurt Cobain). Their set ended with a long drone jam that used up my reserves of good will.

Starting off with the stuttering trudge of “I Love You Too,” Dead Meadow were extremely loud. The bassist played a Rickenbacker through an Orange stack that overpowered everything else. Though I enjoyed the vibrations for a while, the volume wasn’t serving the material very well. The vocals for instance, already ethereal and disembodied on record, were almost obliterated. They did songs from all four studio albums, with the riff-heavy early material working well alongside the mellower new material. They do have a lot of great tunes, but I imagine the fine points of individual numbers all blended into a vast pool of fuzz and wah for a casual listener. It wasn’t enough for me that they played well and seemed a nice bunch of kids. The gig didn’t have that spark of brilliant musicianship or connection with the crowd to take it to the next level. They also played with no stage lights, where they could have benefitted from some visuals to suit the heavy psychedelia they churned out. After an extended version of signature tune “Sleepy Silver Door” (a song so good they recorded it again on Feathers), Dead Meadow left the stage, before returning to play an unnecessary encore to a scattering of loyal (or simply inert) fans.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Another bus ad staring me in the face this morning—this one for Rogers video phones.

Girlfriend spits gum out window.
Window is closed.

…It’s funnier to see it on video


However, some wag with a felt pen changed one consonant in one noun, rendering the whole scenario obscene yet hilarious in a grade 9 way. Considering this smut-minded young adbuster's editing work, I’m not sure it would have been funnier to see the revised version on video.

When I can't find some random filth to enjoy, I wish I had an alternative to staring at ads on the bus. What this city really needs is a free daily newspaper in a handy size, where I can read about local scandals and celebrity crimes in the time it takes me to get from Commercial Drive to Production Way. I’d prefer it have a layout and design similar to Highlights for Children. CanWest and the Pattison Group should take that ball and run with it.

Monday, April 04, 2005

I just got back from the Railway Club and the first Super Robertson Show, a weekly happening that our local linchpin/kingpin/kingbee is hosting. I nursed a pint and enjoyed an hour's entertainment. 21 Tandem Repeats (feat. drum kit linchpin Brock Pytel) started a four or five-song set with "Wishing Machine" and sounded fine. Roger Dean Young and Tin Cup (with Super on bass and minus Chris Rippon) played a few tunes. Speaking of heavy dudes, RDY's one of the heaviest. Whenever I tune into his lyrics for a while I have let myself tune out again and focus on his finger picking or the fact that he plays Peter Hammill's Meurglys III guitar or something. Those words, they blow me away every time. Between the second and third sets, Super held a dog imitation contest for which he had to concede defeat. Super does a great dog imitation, though. I wouldn't want to go toe to toe (or muzzle to muzzle) with him. 21 TR played a few more songs to close out the evening. The music was solid, and although the non-musical elements of the event didn't really gel, Super accepted the blame and all was good.

Friday, April 01, 2005

This bus ad for Dove Sensitive Essentials struck me as rather macabre:
Better get used to hearing,
“I’d love to have your skin.”

It sounds like something Ed Gein might whisper in your ear after sticking you on a meathook.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I saw a really bright rainbow while waiting for the #9 at Broadway and Commercial. It was almost a double rainbow—the outer arc was really faint and only went up about 45 degrees. No one else appeared to notice, except for a stroller-pushing couple with his 'n' hers metal hoodies (Slayer for him, Metallica for her). They held up their cell phones in unison and took pictures, then appraised the results on their respective screens.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Mark Lanegan Band – Bubblegum (Beggars Banquet)
“What you got coming is hard to swallow,” sings the man right into my ear. Mark Lanegan is a heavy dude, and one of my favourite vocalists. His voice is pained but never pitiful, murderously earnest yet never melodramatic. He commits to the material like Nick Cave or Peter Hammill, and I have to believe every syllable. He used to sing for Ellensburg, WA’s Screaming Trees, an ultra-prolific, occasionally brilliant band who took the indie-to-major label ride in the early ’90s. They signed to Sony/Epic and had a minor hit with “Nearly Lost You”. In 1990, while still with the Trees, Lanegan released his first solo album, The Winding Sheet—a dour, depressive masterpiece, and arguably the best album Sub Pop ever put out. I followed Lanegan for his next couple of solo releases, then lost track of him until he turned up on QotSA’s Songs for the Deaf a couple years ago. He seems to have migrated to California and fallen in with Josh Homme’s desert rock gang. He still has that Pacific Northwest blues sound happening, a combination of gritty, terse songwriting and Lanegan’s single-malt-and-cigarettes voice. The resulting atmosphere brings to mind rain, grimy dockyards, stale beer, and drugs. Bubblegum features Lanegan alongside Homme, Chris Goss (who worked with the Trees on their last album), Nick Oliveri, Polly Harvey, John Kastner (The Doughboys) and others. The Mark Lanegan Band’s lineup changes from song to song, with players dropping in and out as the arrangements require. Some songs are sparse, with a few chord changes, reminiscent of The Velvet Underground’s wondrous third album. “Strange Religion” and “Morning Glory Wine” are songs that take basic constructions and carefully build upon them, with staggering results. “Wedding Dress” uses a mechanical sounding drum and bass line as a framework for the vocals, then unapologetically fades out when the idea’s been explored sufficiently. Lanegan and his crew also aren’t afraid to put up walls of sound, like on “Hit the City,” with Lanegan and Harvey singing in unison against a driving three-chord backdrop, or “Methamphetamine Blues,” which crams in as much soot-encrusted sound as possible. The four-on-the-floor, string-bending action of “Sideways in Reverse” roars away like The Stooges. But really, this album is all about voices. The singers accompanying Lanegan on these tunes—mixing and matching, complementing and contrasting—are what lends it a “band” feel. Whether it’s Chris Goss’s smooth tenor doubling Lanegan on “One Hundred Days” or PJ Harvey joining him on “Come to Me” and the aforementioned “Hit the City,” or Wendy Rae Fowler’s fragile contribution to the spooky and intimate “Bombed”, the variety of singers working alongside Lanegan are what makes this album so satisfying. Fifteen songs in 50 minutes fly by. Although I imagine Lanegan chose Bubblegum as an ironic title for this gloomy collection, it’s a pretty sweet thing to chew on.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

I've been thinking a lot about Aerosmith lately, which is something I never expected to do. Smash lent me their autobiography, Walk This Way, and I've been tearing through it. Woven through all the salacious Toxic Twins-type tales is a vivid picture of the music industry in the '70s.

Strange things could happen. For example, in 1973 you might have seen Aerosmith opening for the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The jazz fusion nerds got a rude awakening, apparently. Recalls photographer Laura Kaufman, after Aerosmith's set "[John] McLaughlin came out in his white clothes, burning incense, and he looks at the crowd with great sympathy and asks for a moment of silence. Joe Perry, standing next to me in the wings, said, 'I guess he figures after an hour of us, they need it.'"

Or in 1979, you could have been flipping through Rolling Stone and read the following: "Aerosmith is a dinosaur among bands, the last of a generation of rock 'n' rollers being edged out by more streamlined competition like Boston, Foreigner, and Fleetwood Mac." You know, cutting-edge New Wave bands like those.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Smash and I went to see Black Rice at Mesa Luna last night. These all-ages gigs crack me up; they’re like being on the set of a Larry Clark film. Once again I’m the old guy at the rock show.

There were five bands on the bill. We arrived just in time to catch Calgary’s The Cape May, who were second up. They reminded me a bit of Red House Painters—very heartfelt and fearlessly sedate. Their songs demanded a confident voice to pull them off, and their singer, who looked a little young to have entered the beard-rock phase of his career, was definitely up to it. Aside from Black Rice, they were the best band I saw all night.

It’s weird when you see a band rocking but you don’t hear a band rocking. That’s what I experienced with The Approach, the next band up. Although they had interesting material that made up for lack of hooks with lots of twists and turns, they seemed reined in somehow. I think the guitar needed to be louder. I’m not sure how long these guys have been going, but they might become really good if they build upon their existing tightness and deliver it with more force.

The next band had no such problem. In Media Res are a four piece who deliver their Dinosaur Jr.-ish songs with a little too much enthusiasm. You’d think they were headlining Lollapalooza ’92 the way they carried on. Fair play to them, but this was the weird thing—the crowd responded in kind. Not only do In Media Res have fans, they have fans that clapped along and sang the words and tolerated the banter between songs and knew what was going on when some guy joined the band onstage and started lobbing cans of pop into the crowd (I saw later they were empty cans turned into makeshift shakers). Smash and I felt like we’d crashed the wrong party.

Black Rice got us centered again. It’s so nice to see a band where every member has a presence and a personality and contributes equally. They’re like The Minutemen or Fugazi; an onslaught of sincerity wrapped up in serious fun. Look at Juli drumming herself into exhaustion, smiling all the time. Maybe I should smile more when I play. I’m usually too busy cringing. Check out the guitarists and their matching Telecasters and moustaches. Whatta team. Look at the bass player—that kid has indomitable spirit. I’ve seen them play tighter, but they challenged themselves with few new numbers, perhaps looking forward to their recording break after another show this weekend. Still, a rough-and-ready Black Rice is better than none.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Wetnurse–s/t
The advance word on New York’s Wetnurse was that they were a noise band, a definition that makes me think of either the classic Touch & Go bands like Killdozer and the Butthole Surfers, or the pure anti-music of Japan’s Merzbow. Wetnurse are not a noise band, they’re a precise heavy metal drill team executing some avant-garde musical manoeuvres. They’re hard to pin down, which I like. Although there’s death metal, grind and hardcore in their sound, they chop and channel those genres, welding together their own hyper-agile vehicle of destruction. It’s easier to describe what their music lacks. It doesn’t have rehashed Slayer riffs or an over-technical, blind-them-with-weird-science approach. It doesn’t have guitar solos. The guitars harmonize and crush in tandem, Hunter Schindo’s bass snakes around every sudden turn, Curran Reynolds’s drumming finds clever new ways of bolstering the chaos, and Gene Fowler throws vocal tantrums in a variety of voices. This self-released album never flags in applying its own pretzel logic, Wetnurse striking the perfect blend of advanced math and riff-pounding catchiness, with dissonant, jagged riffing that makes this Voivod fan happy. There’s enough repetition to keep you grounded, but the music is always finding interesting new possibilities to explore. For example, the twin-lead thrash breakdown in the middle of “Idolized in Pink,” where the bass suddenly comes to the fore to take the song into the next part, or the Melvins-like bass-skulk intro to “Live Wire Touches Wet Blanket” or the “dub” section in “Rhetorical Question.” Martin Bisi’s recording and mix is excellent. It’s big and natural and I can hear air moving in the studio. The album peaks on the epic final track, “Urgently Missing Something,” where the riffs drill straight into my pleasure centers. I especially love the section where the song bursts into what sounds like a fragmented Budgie riff and joyously rocks out for a time before fading out…then fading up with an extended outro riff that sounds like it could segue into another song entirely. Maybe they should start the next album with that riff. It’s difficult to describe how cool (and musically nourishing) Wetnurse are; you’ll just have to take my semi-adequate word for it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

With fancylady holed up on the island working on The Book, I'm living a humble life of disarray this week. I'm eating dinner at 9, watching movies and worrying about a burning sensation in my right foot, which I think was caused by new shoes and drumming for Tarkake a week ago today. I don't like it.

I wanna post something, so here's what's in my bag this week:
Blood Red Throne – Altered Genesis
New from Earache/Wicked World. This harks back to the classic Sunlight Studios Swedish DM sound with mass power chords and headcrushing midrange. Although the execution is ultimately a little sterile, this has a few great songs that have stuck with me and keep me coming back to it.

Xasthur – Telepathic With the Deceased
Xasthur tend to polarize people. They're either swept away by the grim atmosphere or bored to death. My colleague ChaoticTate compared them to Neurosis in that respect. I've decided I fall into the latter camp. I'm not getting any sense of communication from this music and, most importantly, it doesn't rock. Neurosis, whatever mode they're in during a given song, always rocks.

Lost Soul – Chaostream
Another Wicked World jobby, this one from Poland. I've just given this one good listen, so can't say much about it.

Wetnurse – s/t
Look for a full review of this in a bit. Great stuff.

Miles Davis – Black Magus
Takes a while to find its evil groove, but when it does, there is none more grim. True telepathy with the deceased.

Tarkake liveoffthefloor stuff
So I can pick it apart and torture myself.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Smash and I went to the Ridge last Friday to see End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones. It was a good documentary—a grainy, entertaining mishmash of material from various sources. It had some good laughs (most of them provided by Dee Dee) and plenty of sadness (Joey and Dee Dee are dead by movie’s end), and I learned a lot about the arc of their lengthy career. The Ramones were one of those bands that were just kind of “there” when I was a teenager. I liked what little Ramones material I heard, or saw, via Nite Dreems on channel 10. I hadn’t really considered that the Ramones had the potential to “break big” in the early days. They did what they could, packing albums with strong material and expanding their sound by hiring producers like Phil Spector. But when it became clear to them that they’d never crack the mainstream (no thanks to radio programmers), they knuckled under, stayed out on the road, and did pretty well. Hey, you could argue they invented punk rock and the entire American ’80s underground music scene, so you have to respect The Ramones.

Obligatory progressive rock connection: the movie shows a clip of ELP playing “Knife Edge” as an example of the bad old days when virtuosos ruled the rock scene. Fair enough—point taken. Most rock bands probably shouldn’t bother tackling Janacek and Mussorgsky. However, I thought the filmmakers could have used a better example of the sorry state of the musical status quo, because the ELP clip was insanely rocking.

After the Ridge, we headed east to the Cottage Bistro, arriving in plenty of time to catch 21 Tandem Repeats, who are Super Robertson, Alick Macaulay, and Two-Sticks Hobbs. It’s an interesting lineup—two guitars (one acoustic, one electric) and drums—that results in a fairly full sound. Super’s acoustic guitar provides a decent bottom end. They played a mix of Super songs and Roadbed material and went over well despite the high level of chatter in the room.

I was glad to see that my friend JR got out of the house to attend the show, but his presence made the evening a bit hazardous. Super was doing a meet-and-greet, making his way towards us at the back of the Bistro. When it was our turn, JR gave him a Bear hug and complimented Super on his brick shithouse physique. Witnessing this self-assured display of manly physicality, I was overcome with discomfort and could offer only a limp handshake when the Paternal Postman turned to me. I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible.

I’m getting rides to work these days from a coworker who likes to ask big tough questions. She hit me with “what music would you like them to play at your funeral?” last week. I really couldn’t begin to answer it other than to say that I couldn’t bring myself to inflict my musical tastes on a captive audience, even after my death. I decided I’d prefer to have a wake at the Cottage Bistro where my friends could all play for each other. Every band I’d ever performed with – from Upstart to Huxley, from Logan Sox to Tarkake—could do a couple numbers. I thought about the funereal power of having a drum kit onstage with no one to play it—the empty stool would be an unsubtle reminder of my absence. That would be a drag though. Everyone would have to have a go at the drums that night, just as I’ve been having a go for the last 25 years.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Clutch w/ Removal at the Commodore Ballroom, February 5
Good bill, eh? Two monster bands with their own twists on the heavy rock. Removal brings their instrumental punkprog fistinyourface while Clutch has developed into a kind of Sabbath-meets-Coltrane outfit over the years. Before the show, Smash told me to check out this page, which has hard evidence that Clutch are our sort of people.

We ate at the venue, and I was working on a chicken burger when Removal came on and began slaying. Trying to chew while paying attention to Removal is no mean feat, I tell you. It was great to see them on the big stage in front of so many people, and they sounded huge. With samples and triggered instruments being such a big part of their sound, I wasn’t sure if those elements would come across, but they did. They even had the slide show going. When “We’re Removal from Vancouver, BC” appeared projected behind them, they got a big cheer. As Smash pointed out, as far as much of the crowd knew, Removal might as well have been from Milwaukee...or Mars. I’m sure they made a lot of new friends, including Clutch’s drummer, whom I saw bopping away by the side of the stage during “Frankenstein.” Removal!

It’s amazing how well Clutch do in Vancouver. It helps that they play here often. It’s a bit of the old “chicken-or-egg?” Do they play here so often because they have a lot of fans, or have they gained all these fans because they play here a lot? These followers are genuine know-every-word types, too. Looking at the crowd, I couldn’t see the usual clusters of tourists who turn up because the Rough Guide to Vancouver says the Commodore is the place to go on a Saturday night. No, it was a sea of diehards out on the floor.

Neil Fallon (well into the Beard Rock stage of his career) is the people’s poet and “Mob Goes Wild” is already an all-time hoser anthem, slotting its endearingly cranky bulk alongside “Tom Sawyer”, “Riff Raff,” and Max Webster’s “Hangover.” The set list seemed fairly standard, with all the hits from their classic self-titled album (“Spacegrass” was an obvious encore), plus a couple from Elephant Riders and a good chunk of last year's tremendous Blast Tyrant. Their lineup has expanded to include keyboards on this tour for that extra Heep/Purple vibe. The new guy added some nice shading at various points, but he could have been featured more prominently, especially when you consider that the keys had the potential to take the jamming into Govt Mule territory. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

My favourite song right now is "Nature Boy" by Nick Cave off Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. It rocks gently and evenly—one of his more uptempo tunes overall. Although it doesn't sound like a showstopping centrepiece, it struck me the first time I heard it as a perfect song. The verse is just three chords, with a little vamp thrown in at the end of the progression. The words (fine, fine words) kind of ramble casually over the top, but the phrasing never falters. Neat trick to sound so nonchalant yet be bang on with each line. The chorus is just three more chords—it might even use one of the chords from the verses; I haven't tried it out on guitar yet—with another lilt added to the last one. Those three chords are, again, perfect. Hearing them, you realize they couldn't be any other three chords.

This song also makes me think of fancylady and what a belter she is. It's her birthday today!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I always check out the Staff Picks rack at A&B Sound to get a sense of what’s going on out there. Every store has its own particular scene, and judging by what I see, A&B’s scene is mighty strange. Along with the standard nerd-approved stuff you’d expect, like the latest Guided By Voices or Robert Pollard side project, Death From Above 1979, or a boffo expanded Pavement reissue (making me feel really old), there’s always something that seems placed there just to spook me. The Witchcraft album, an album I’ve never actually seen in their regular racks, resided there for a time, and on my last visit I spotted a copy of The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other sitting out in plain view of women and children. What’s going on with that, and on what sort of weird hipster level (if any) has this staff picker been embracing the White Hammer of Love? Am I going to chance upon a band at the Brickyard featuring a “heavily modified B3" and guy honking on two saxes through a distortion box sometime soon? I live in hope.

Monday, January 31, 2005

The U! album reviews redeemed themselves in the end with Paul Schwarz's very detailed review of Metal Blade's reissue of Voivod's War and Pain. I was very glad to see that, seeing as I neglected review it myself last issue. I used to buy a lot of thrash metal albums back in the day (that Banzai Records Speed Metal logo would always catch my eye), and while it was all good fun, very few of those albums were truly startling and inspiring. War and Pain was definitely one of them.

Last weekend I bought Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, a documentary about Miles Davis's electric period and his performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. It's very good for something that doesn't look like much in terms of packaging. Most of the people interviewed for the documentary discuss how Miles was called a sellout and made a virtual pariah in the jazz world for going electric. "Selling out" is always in the eye of the beholder, though. To those who followed Miles until the late '60s, sure, his embracing of rock & funk must have been heresy. But to the rock musicians of the day, what Miles brought to their music must have seemed really freeing and exciting. And to me, a guy from Burnaby who likes Rush, those Miles electric albums sound really strange and powerful.

Today, having absorbed a lot of his music over the last few years, I listened to his 1985 album You Are Under Arrest for the first time. And when I heard the first few seconds of his saccharine cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," I thought, "Jeez, what a sellout."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Smash, Mai, Christian Scum and I went out to the St. James Church last night for the Don Ross guitar clinic. Don puts on a good show, with lots of stories and jokes along with the finest acoustic fingerpicking you're ever going to see. Radio Canada FM and the Aboriginal People's Network were there recording the show.

Before the gig I was happy to be able to give the nerds' old stereo amp to Chris. He hasn't been able to play LPs for a while now, so he was extremely grateful for the donation. (If you're near Middlegate tonight, you might hear some Heep drifting out a low rise window.) It's pretty near impossible to buy an amp with phono inputs these days unless you can afford to splurge on something high end. I hope my Rotel has many more years of service left in it.

Chris never fails to provide a quote any time you hang out with him. A couple minutes after I got picked up, he started talking about a "How to play like Hendrix" feature in some guitar mag. "Turns out it just boiled down to tuning to E flat and trying not to suck."

I'm on my own right now. Fancy's away at a publishing conference/booze-up in Tofino all weekend. I got a bunch of stuff to do anyway, including editing the Unrestrained! album reviews. I really wish they wouldn't review Nazi bands. The writers hide behind their quaint little genre codes (e.g. NSBM—National Socialist Black Metal), but they're talking about Nazis. Ignorant fucking Nazis. It's doubly crazy when the Nazi band being reviewed is Greek. It reminds me of one of Amy Sedaris's lines on Strangers With Candy: "Greeks are just Jews without money." (The only way you might get away with a joke like that is if your family is Greek to begin with.)

Monday, January 24, 2005

I heard "LA Woman" playing in the laudromat tonight, and it made me think of Bruce McCulloch's Doors Fan sketch on Kids in the Hall.

See that guy working in the laudromat, cleanin' lint traps and makin' change? He's a rider on the storm!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I'm pretty sure that Cypress is nearing the end of her Playing With Barbie years, but I hope it' s not too late to get her one of these (via Blabbermouth).

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Tarkake guitarist Malty has been a man of leisure lately. He’s been woodshedding while on the dole, taking lessons and watching instructional videos. At our last jam he showed us what he’d learned from the John Petrucci guitar regimen so far—how to stretch the arms and limber up the fingers prior to playing. After previewing the next lesson, which included running through scales at 200 bpm, Malty said he’d work on mastering the stretching before moving on.

My seat on the bus Thursday night had “Clapton Rules” written on it (shouldn’t it have read “Clapton is God”?). Enraged by this brazen “tagging” (never mind the fact that Clapton hasn’t ruled since 1967), I immediately went on the lookout for someone with a beard, ponytail, and a Sharpie.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I just watched a video of 21 Tandem Repeats playing their hit "Fuse Lit Bombs" at a restaurant last month. I regret missing that show. Super Robertson told me it was one of his better gigs. The video is murky, even murkier than the official Factory-issued Joy Division video. There wasn't much stage lighting at the place. You can just make out the humanoid brown/black forms of SR and WB. The song is worth a listen, though, and it's a fine performance made even more impressive by the fact that they could find the right notes in the darkness. Jeff Healey couldn't have done any better.