Friday, May 30, 2003

Lunch in the cafeteria at work still stresses me out. I had a good lunch yesterday, though, chatting about music and drumming with a few likeminded people. I think I managed to sell a couple more tickets to the Terry Bozzio clinic this Saturday, too.

I always seize up when someone asks me who my favourite drummers are. Yesterday my list included Billy Cobham, Tony Williams and, for Canadian content, NP. I forgot about Bill Bruford (you’ll be surprised to hear), as well as Phil Collins (who’ll I’ll always vouch for as a drummer), Ian Paice, John Bonham, and Bill Ward.

They’re all worthy, but lately I haven’t enjoyed a drummer as much as Ginger Baker on Sunrise on the Sufferbus. I should have mentioned him as well. I need to be more evangelical about that album when I have the chance.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Inspired by a raise at work and a 72-cent Canadian dollar, I went on a mail-order rampage earlier this month. Everything arrived intact and on time, so let’s inspect the ugliness:

JPT Scare Band – Sleeping Sickness (Monster Records)
I’ve mentioned this ’70s basement power trio here before. The album alternates between loose jams with endless soloing and shorter numbers that reside firmly in Robin Trower/Firebird territory. They manage to be many different things at once (depending, I guess, on your mood or perspective): grim/cheerful, lax/disciplined, hopeless/inspiring…

Manilla Road – Mark of the Beast (Monster Records)
I salute Monster Records for bringing stuff like this to light. This is burger-brained American progressive metal circa 1981, floundering without a template (save the remote and untouchable Rush and Priest), and hobbled like Script-era Marillion. Utterly doomed but ultimately interesting. This must be the missing link to something, and not just because of all the knuckle dragging on display.

Various – Sucking the 70s (Small Stone Records)
A good tribute album/novelty record here. This two-CD set has a bunch of bands covering hits and obscurities from the ’70s, respectfully for the most part, with good performances and tones from nearly everybody. Highlights: Clutch plowing through “Cross-Eyed Mary,” Throttlerod’s “Black Betty,” “Working Man” by Suplecs and a few others. Lowlights: Men of Porn butthole surfing through Neil Young’s “On the Weekend,” and The Glasspack covering “TV Eye”—an unimaginative choice of what is a tedious song in anyone but Iggy’s hands.

Acqua Fragile – S/T (Numero Uno/BMG)
Art rock bands sprouted up like giant hogweeds in mid-70s Italy, releasing a fanboy-friendly album or two before disappearing. This album dates from 76 and sounds a lot like Trespass-era Genesis, complete with a singer who yelps like Peter Gabriel (and a bit like Bryan Ferry). Too much to absorb after only a couple spins.

Museo Rosenbach – Zarathustra (BMG Italy)
As above, except much more evil. A bad trip from 1973. If listening to this didn’t make me feel like I should be cut off, then maybe it should have.

Monday, May 26, 2003

We rented FUBAR last weekend, a fine Canadian movie probably made for the price of one day’s catering on the Matrix Reloaded set. It’s got metal, pathos, plot twists, mass shotgunning of Styles, awesome stoner profundities, and some Gummo-style chair destruction. Big laughs throughout. At first I was wary of how the movie (which is presented as a mockumentary that strays into reality for a couple interesting scenes) regarded its lead characters—are the actors just a couple of classist thespians playing headbanger dressup? But as the movie progressed, the characters were fleshed out enough to see that yeah, the filmmakers actually understand and like their subjects.

It’s too bad that the mockumentary genre has only come of age lately. It would have been the perfect format for a McKenzie brothers movie. Instead we have Strange Brew, so we have to lump it. It has its moments, though.

We also saw Rock Star, with Mark Wahlberg as not-really-Ripper Owens. Phew. It had me at first—it seemed to be set in an alternate universe where rival local tribute bands rumble in parking lots and play in steel factories for hundreds of rabid fans, where heavy metal bands hold press conferences on live television, and where people at concerts can have heartfelt conversations without raising their voices. Just when I thought (and hoped) that this Farrelly-brothers-type absurdity would be the movie’s style, it tapered off and became all earnest, and then I didn’t know what to think. The last few minutes, though, featured a couple of plot cappers that were well worth the cheesy wait.

Tess and Casper down the hall once had a showing of this movie, which is a way better version of the Rock Star scenario. At least it knows what it wants to be, which is totally mental.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

When I’m standing at the bus stop, I hate how people in cars look at me like I’m an animal at one of those drive-through wildlife safari parks. When I visited San Diego Zoo as a kid I saw a gorilla nail a guy with a clod of poo (highlight of the trip, maybe even my entire childhood). If only one of my fellow great apes at the bus stop could take similar action against one of those looky-loos.

There’s this really bad bus ad for Adidas SL footwear (which look like you’ve got casts on both feet or are wearing thick plastic socks). It’s got a picture of the shoe in the middle and it’s surrounded by fake notebook scrawl creepily obsessing about how great these shoes are and how the writer must buy them when they’re released on April 17—“When I wear them, people will worship me” “My life begins 04/17” and so on. It’s some ad exec’s idea of being down with the kids these days, when in reality they’re just associating the product with a shallow, pathetic personality type.

(Nothing against Adidas here. But I wear Stan Smiths relieved that they'll probably never be advertised that way, if they're ever advertised at all.)

As with the Creeps and Losers campaign, I’m glad I’m not the only who notices these things. Twice I’ve seen this Adidas ad defaced in a fairily clever way. In one case someone had stuck a “Hello, my name is SLAVE LABOR” sticker to it. Today I saw it with a sticker that read “these shoes are for posers.” This is what I like to see. Conversation.

Friday, May 23, 2003

With the belter at the Western Canadian Magazine Awards tonight, I had the place to myself. After she left, I looked out the peephole to make sure the coast was clear, then I locked the door. I turned on the TV, making sure the volume wasn’t too loud. Finally I kicked off my pants, flopped down on the chesterfield and watched a Queen concert on the CBC.

Well, it wasn’t really Queen—more like Roger Taylor and Brian May and Phil Collins out of Genesis and dozens of nobodies. It wasn’t really a concert either. It was some kind of outdoor fest adjacent to Buckingham Palace. They did four songs, then got off.

First up: “Radio Ga-Ga.” Not a good way to start. Roger Taylor sang this one. He wrote it, didn’t he? I wasn’t buying Queen albums when this came out, so I can’t check credits. The crowd did the obligatory Nuremberg rally hand-clap routine and that was that. If Roger had to do one of his songs, I would have preferred “Tenement Funster.”

“We Will Rock You” (May sang this one) and “We Are the Champions” followed. Someone named Will Young came on stage and took the mike for the latter tune. (I just had a look, and young Will actually battled Gareth Gates to take England’s Pop Idol competition.)

At some point during this double-shot, the stage was invaded by…what the hell was that? Some kind of mob swathed in torn denim and Danskin. The cast of Cats? Oh, right, it must be the cast of that Queen musical, the one Ben Elton ripped off the plotline of 2112 for.

Finally the money shot—“Bohemian Rhapsody.” I eyed the door nervously. What if the belter forgot her purse and came charging in? I picked up the remote, ready to change the channel at a split-second’s notice.

But what’s this? Some red-shirted weed from the Queen musical had the mike now, performing the song as a duet with a short blonde woman. This made no sense at all. Then, after the cast of dozens did the opera section, a black lady with a hairdo like the Heat Miser sang the heavy bit at the end. It was a far weirder scene than anything Freddie Mercury could have dreamt up.

“Anyway the wind blows…” As the final gong reverberated, so did the guilt and shame through my being.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The BC pulp and paper industry breathes a collective sigh of relief, one-industry towns rebound from years of recession, beleaguered workers vie for nightshift hours at the mill and start paying off their pickup trucks in droves. Our dour province brightens with the bracing economic domino effect.

Wha’ happen? Well, Martin Popoff has a new book out; another Farmer’s Almanac/Atlas Shrugged/Bible-sized treatise on heavy metal. Forests shudder in fear. The Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs of All Time is a workmanlike title for a workmanlike book, but Popoff’s knack for churning out the wordage has already blistered my fingertips from page flipping.

As the title says, this is a big MFing list of songs, each with a Popoff analysis and a quote by the artist in question from Martin’s archives. What really brings the book alive, though, is that this isn’t the author’s personal list. He has compiled (with some help from his dad) the top 500 from lists submitted by punters like you and me. I recall sending him my list—I can’t remember my final tally at all, but I’m positive it was a pretty hapless attempt to encapsulate everything metallically Mulish.

Luckily for the reader, Martin doesn’t necessarily approve of the results, and he expresses his dismay hilariously throughout (caveat: I’m only 1/3 of my way through the book, so maybe he calms down after a while…after all, it’s not really worth getting too worked up over #378). “Stairway to Heaven” (#35) “would have made a good b-side,” while (ugh) “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” (#29) is Judas Priest’s “Gene Simmons tribute, sweaty leathers, percussive retardation post-Peter Criss…” Heh-heh and amen.

Popoff punctuates the list at various points with top tens from musicians he’s talked to, which throw up the occasional surprise. Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) favours Cheap Trick, Mahogany Rush and The Donnas, while Paul Di’Anno gives credit to noted rivethead Gary Numan (“Cars”—didn’t Fear Factory cover this?) and Acmac’s former idoles Trust (“Antisocial”).

The quotes connected to the songs occasionally cough up some new behind-the-scenes info. I’d like to think Popoff has selected them with a keen sense of insight into exactly who his audience is. He knows we’ll get it when John Paul Jones says, “Robert, sometimes, just to get a song going, would use lyrics that he knew, and then he would change them; sometimes not.” He knows that we’ll roll our eyes at all the Metallica quotes, which seem to have been procured during the Load/Reload lean years, and which offer nothing but lame excuses as to why they’ll never pen anything as good as “Trapped Under Ice” ever again.

It’s adequately proofread—I’ve come across a few clunkers, and something goes very awry in the introduction. It’s one of Martin’s better-presented books once you get past the cover and dive into the guts of the thing.

Basically I’m having a riot reading it, and I have an overwhelming urge to get my records out and compile a 500-song CD-R of the tunes dissected within. If only I had some UFO albums, I’d be set.

If you'd like to know what number one is, you'd better buy the book.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

My indiepop cred score is 42%. I wear lots of sweaters, but I need cooler glasses.

Monday, May 12, 2003

We did end up seeing A Mighty Wind on Saturday. If I could describe the movie in one word it’d be “comfortable.” It was also hilarious and gentle and…folksy. It’s not going to redefine the parameters of modern comedic cinema, but that’s not what I expected it to do. For me, it’s more than enough to see a movie populated by people (actors and characters) that I really, really, really like. I spent the whole 90 minutes just staring at the screen in admiration: “Wow, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy are so good together. Gee, Harry Shearer’s bass playing is sure coming along. Can I take some of what Fred Willard’s been taking? Can Christopher Guest just make one of these every six months?” The movie left us obscenely cheery for the rest of the weekend. Even the Fifth Avenue Theatre didn’t seem like such an evil place afterward.

I can’t stop listening to “Nine Feet Underground” by Caravan. Twenty minute progressive rock epics get a bad rap for being 20-minute progressive rock epics, but Nine Feet… achieves the impossible by being light, breezy and subtle—a country drive in a Jaguar E-type rather than a lightspeed journey into the Horsehead Nebula. Although it’s dated as hell, it wears its stripey flares and sideburns with a slightly smirking dignity. The belter thinks it sounds like porno music (I'm not sure what porno music sounds like—I only watch G-rated movies like A Mighty Wind). To me it sounds like England and the soundtrack to an older generation’s perfect youth.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

A conversation we had last weekend about Hollywood’s waste of John Candy’s talents led to the belter and me watching Uncle Buck last night. Although it’s pretty much John Hughes hitting his formulaic stride (cute kids, a dog, upper middle class family learning to love one another again), it’s a good showcase for Candy. I knew he’d be in fine form early in the movie, when Buck answers a 2 AM phone call from his brother. Before he can talk, he has a giant coughing fit to loosen the booze and nicotine gumming up his throat, then in a brief shot, he does the Stephan Seely of Pre-Teen World dry-mouth grimace. Magic.

On a similar SCTV, improv-related note, I think we’ll finally get to see A Mighty Wind on Saturday.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Saw a kid the other day with a Minor Threat patch and a pot leaf emblem sewn onto her backpack. This is either philosophical lethargy or an example of keeping all your options open.

In other news, I’m happy to see that ACM has posted another installment of blacknblues. He’s written a substantial and entertaining appreciation of the guitar solo that’s definitely worth a careful read. He uses yer basic top 20 list as a skeleton for the article, but there’s definitely meat on those bones. ACM’s healthy respect for musical history and command of the instrument means he’s the man for the job. Any list I’d attempt would alternate between May and Lifeson, inducing comas all around.

To further his discussion, though, here's a quote from a highly caffeinated Warrel Dane (of Nevermore) in the latest BW&BK: "People are getting sick of all the stuff they see on MTV. There's crunching heavy metal but there's no guitar solos in the shit. I know I'm tired of it. It's a sad, sad, state of affairs when one of the most popular bands that has guitar solos is Creed. Help me, help me, slit my wrists now for God's sakes."

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

The Dirty Three, May 3 at the Town Pump
The Dirty Three have an uncalculated, almost accidental quality that I like. They’re simply a violinist, guitarist and drummer who play the way they want to play, and fortunately they sound really good together. As an instrumental group, The Dirty Three are all about a sound. I find their songs to be fairly interchangeable to be honest, but it’s a privilege just to wallow in their vibe for a while. I enjoy their drummer too. He can extract more from three drums, a high-hat and two cymbals than any drummer I’ve seen. And when his basic kit isn’t enough, he’ll toss a small tambourine or wood block onto his snare and knock that around for a bit.

The Town Pump on Saturday night was much busier than Richards on Richards a couple years ago when I first saw The Dirty Three. To match the larger crowd, the band had grown in number too. They had the bass player from Low on this tour, making them the Dirty Four for about 3/4 of the set.

As you’d probably guess, I’ve got a soft spot for violins in rock music. Bands with violins are uniformly cool: Curved Air, Van der Graaf circa 77/78, Mahavishnu, Boud Deun, Godspeed You Black Emperor, My Dying Bride, etc. The Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis is more of an all-rounder than a fleet fingered prog scientist, combining soloist, conductor, and emcee in one slightly rumpled Aussie. Like his occasional employer Nick Cave, he’s got a black sense of humour that he exercises between songs, outlining the dire scenario that each selection illustrates. I think he’s a great frontman. The belter doesn’t agree. She has serious credibility issues with anyone who wears red pants.

It wasn’t the band’s fault, but the gig was a bit of an endurance test. The club was a sweatbox, so as soon as The Dirty Three finished their encore and waved goodbye, we headed for the exit to air ourselves out on the Water St. sidewalk.

Monday, May 05, 2003

I nearly fell out of my chair when I visited Head Heritage on Saturday. Top man Julian Cope, one of Difficult Music’s latter-day spiritual leaders despite the fact I’ve never heard one of his records, has given album of the month honours to one of my cornerstones of Western civilization— Pawn Hearts by Van der Graaf Generator. Cope’s lengthy assessment of this three-song barrage of existential crises almost glows with unhinged rockdog prose and affection for the unloved and unlovable: "This was rock’n’roll only because no other category would fit, and rock’n’roll was slack enough to accommodate this mongrel gang of weaners whose only common ground was that everyone hated them all."

It’s an album I’m underqualified/too chickenshit to write about, so read the review and consider it a guest entry in the next-to-nonexistent Difficult Music classic album series. Thanks, Mr. Cope.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I’m going to give everybody a break from my usual anti-female tirades and talk about grocery shopping.

Disaster at the IGA last night. I lost a loonie in a shopping cart because the cart wrangler had already locked the carts in their pen for the night. There were no other carts for my cart to mate with, thus the loonie-releasing mechanism couldn’t function. The belter eventually persuaded me to accept the situation and come home with her.

Enjoy your tip, cart wrangler.

The whole grocery store seethed with frustration last night. Our cashier buddy Aron had reached the end of his shift and the end of his tether. I received a lesson on how to place a dividing bar on the conveyor belt to separate my stuff from the stuff belonging to the person ahead of me. What he didn’t know is that I have issues with divider bars. I don’t use them. To me, they’re a symbol of urban paranoia and alienation. When someone slams one down between my groceries and theirs, I take it almost as an assault on my competence and good character. The gesture says “Get away from me and my stuff, which I haven’t actually paid for, but which I consider mine. What are you trying to pull, anyway?” Whereas I’ve taken care to place my stuff eight to ten inches away from theirs, I’m following it along the conveyor belt, I’m making sure that my fig newtons don’t get charged to someone else’s bill, and I’ll speak up if the cashier goes to scan the wrong item. I’m aware of what’s going on, and I’m in control of the situation.

I’m trying to apply a little cognizance and trust to what I do out in the world, but I shouldn’t expect anyone to understand that. What people understand are grimy plastic dividers separating their food as it glides towards the cashier.