Tuesday, December 23, 2003

The tree is upright and decorated, I've seen Mr. Bean with a giant turkey stuck on his head, I've gladly paid $9 for a Terry's Chocolate Orange (the white chocolate variant), and I'm grabbing the g.d. clicker box every time that commercial with John Lennon singing "So this is Christmas" over a montage of starving children comes on. I love this time of year.

The only thing I haven't done is gone shopping with my sister. The tiny doctor is in New Zealand, tumbling down crevasses and setting new lows in personal hygiene while on a mountaineering course. Every year we meet downtown during the peak weekend of consumer insanity to buy things for our parents and finish any other shopping we have left to do. Our secondary mission is to be nice to salespeople—they're the real saints of the season, having to deal with individuals who make themselves miserable over something as inherently frivolous as Christmas shopping.

Oh well, everyone's entitled to a minor Yuletide gripe, as long as they don't take it out on an innocent bystander. Personally, I'm still a little pissed that they shut down the Marks and Spencer on Robson. There was no better place to shop for parents.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The Tangent—The Music that Died Alone (Inside/Out Music)
The liner notes say, “So how would it turn out if four English Nihilists teamed up with three Swedish Aquarians?” Pretty darn well. The Tangent is a project led by Andy Tillison, whom I’ve been aware of since he used to sell cassettes of Peter Hammill cover versions in Pilgrims fanzine. He’s gone on to release several albums with his band, Parallel or 90 Degrees. The Tangent is apparently one of those solo projects that got a little out of hand with the guest musos, so the sheer amount of star power involved (“star” being a relative term) garnered it a release on biggie Inside/Out Music. The Tangent are Tillison, Flower Kings guitarist Roine Stolt, and—gee whiz—David “Jaxon” Jackson, Van der Graaf Generator’s dark lord of the saxophone. Assorted Po90D personnel and Flower Kingers round out the lineup. This is a very good-humoured, enjoyable album—music about music, more than anything else. For instance, the second track, The Canterbury Sequence, is about the act of listening to music—the narrator digs Caravan and Hatfield and the North—and the sense of nostalgia it can produce, even if, like our narrator, you weren’t there at the time: “Feigned innocence and humour/Through my Walkman on a bike ride in the sun/My bicycle and I/we missed the party back in 1971.” The song is a mini-suite—all jazzy flutes and Hammond—that takes a detour through Hatfield and the North’s “Chaos at the Greasy Spoon” at mid-point. Three of the four songs are what I’d call epics, between 8 and 20 minutes. The exception is “Up-hill From Here,” clocking in at a breezy 7:11. This one gets up a good head of steam, and resolves into a super-catchy chorus/post-chorus/hook sequence that reveals some serious songwriting skills. It’s prog and all, and everybody gets to take a solo, but it’s not just a wank. I wish I could pin down who this song reminds me of. The Wonderstuff maybe? Anyway it stands out like a tuneful little island amidst the meandering subcontinents surrounding it. The last (title) track is a bring-down after the first three songs. It’s a little on the sleepy side, offering what could be an effective cultural commentary if it wasn’t presented in such a laid-back, MOR context: “We pay people to destroy us/in the media every day/So we’ll know our place and keep it/And never want to move away.” I’d prefer that the album didn’t end with a whimper, although I’m happy that it ended there, after 48 minutes. The Tangent don’t overstay their welcome, delivering a good dose of faith for the faithful in the process.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

There was a strike this week. It’s depressing the amount of vitriol that people harbour. The bile in their letters and soundbites implies that everybody’s got it better than them, and nobody deserves anything, especially not people who serve food or do other manual labour. Nobody deserves job and wage protection, they say. Nobody deserves to make enough money to pay for a home and take care of a family, buy some stuff and take the occasional vacation. Nobody deserves time to raise their children. Nobody deserves a voice.

People who gripe about these things don’t have the imagination to visualize anything different for themselves. They only want to bring others—people just like themselves—down to their level, or at least down a peg or two. Everything beyond their immediate control is a source of blind distrust and resentment. They don’t seem to see that one victory might lead to others; that we all could be better off someday. Instead they watch the losses mount, believing it when they’re told that everything’s going to be all right.

The ever-helpful Sun published the hourly wages of every member of a Spirit-class ferry in the paper today, to prove a point, I suppose. Rub salt into wounds. Never mind that it’s none of anyone’s business what people get paid. Looking at the numbers, I don’t make as much money as the lowest paid member of a ferry crew. Then again, I get to sit in a warm office every day, I get to leave for work and come home at the same hour every day, I can wear whatever I want, and I don’t have to deal with members of the public who are angry at me for doing exactly what they would do in the same situation.

My company does the right thing and gives me a few benefits, but it could all disappear tomorrow. I understand this last fact, and I wish it wasn't true. I still think I'm the luckiest bastard on earth.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

There’s a Christmas toy drive on, and I'm watching the box gradually fill up with stuffed animals. God. You’d think needy children are all affection-starved, tactilely challenged, insecure basket cases. I’m all for charity, and I love Christmas, but seeing stuffed animals and other plush goods in a toy drive box makes me want douse the whole works in kerosene, flick a match in and watch the heap of “flame retardant” synthetics and post-consumer-recovered stuffings melt into a bubbling, blue-flaming pool of toxicity. The box would then be empty, ready to receive useful, welcome gifts. If I was dictator, I’d demand that it be filled with Lego, Hot Wheels, Barbies, and books, games, etc. The best place for stuffies is the local rifle range.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Dimmu Borgir/Nevermore/Children of Bodom/Hypocrisy Dec. 1 at the Commodore Ballroom
Nobody I contacted could be my +1 for the gig, so I felt a bit like Billy No-Mates as I joined a queue that stretched around the block. The size of the lineup made me flash back to the last time I tried to Dimmu Borgir—“tried” being the operative word, because I got stuck in the lineup and never got in, due to sketchiness and incompetence by the promoters on down. This time the line moved steadily, and half an hour later, I was inside.

Hypocrisy came on first in a mass of windmilling hair and scurrying bodies. I always thought Hypocrisy was a trio, but there were four of them tonight. The lineup gave them twin lead-guitar capability, which they showcased throughout their half-hour set, notably on a great new song, “Eraser.” The Swedes have always been a workmanlike entity, with mainman Peter Tagtgren most noted for his production work at Abyss Studios. I’ll praise their material for its diversity more than anything else, with songs that either chug mercilessly or speed along at an unreasonable clip. I was disappointed they didn’t tip their hat to Canada by doing their awesome cover of Razor’s “Evil Invaders”, but they did end their set with “Roswell 47,” which aroused fists-in-the-air jubilance from the crowd. To borrow a line from Jeff Wagner, “Roswell 47” is Hypocrisy’s “Rock ’n’ Roll All Nite.”

After a quick 15-minute changeover, Finland’s Children of Bodom came on. The five-piece seem to be a love-’em/hate ’em proposition with metal fans. The Quebecker who sat next to me during Hypocrisy was definitely primed to see them, and so were most of the crowd. I think CoB’s style—Yngwie Malmsteen classical virtuoso metal with keyboards fused onto an extreme black/speed metal framework—irks the manly men purists out there, and truthfully it’s not really my cup of tea either…though it’s a blast in small doses. The whole set was just a blur of wheedling keyboards and guitar, trading lines like Mahavishnu or Mastermind. More than half an hour of this may have betrayed the material’s lack of substance, but as it was, CoB were pretty near the best band of the night.

This was a funny gig for me. I wasn’t really there to see any one band over the others. I have albums by all the acts on the bill except Nevermore, who were on next. I was expecting that their more traditional metal style would sound really immense, but Nevermore were a big disappointment. Vocalist Warrell Dane looks like he’s seen better days and the guitars were just a mass of downtuned 7-string sludge, rendering the riffs miserably undetectable. No fun.

Dimmu Borgir set things right again with great sound and staging. Their keyboard-heavy material came across as pretty slick for Norwegian Black Metal. I could understand how it could appeal to the wee Marilyn Manson goth girls in the crowd. I didn’t know that Dimmu are basically an all-star band now, with Uncle Fester from Cradle of Filth on drums and Galder from Old Man’s Child on guitar. I was really impressed by their bassist, the first proper finger-playing bassist on stage that night. And when he stepped up to the mike to perform the clean singing parts—man, what a voice! He was like one of the three tenors. Really, though, he sounded to me like Simen, the old Borknagar singer…and it turns out that’s who he was! What a superstar. I couldn’t see Fester down on the floor, so I went up to the side seating area to for a better view. Fester was still pretty hidden by all the dry ice fog, but from what I could see, he’s not looking that great these days. He looked like one of these guys. The band were wearing the studded shin guards that feature so prominently in their promo photos…very impressive. They look like the ideal accessories for puncturing Christians (you’d have to pick them off like burrs), or for aerating the lawn.

I had to get up early the next morning to travel down the states for work, so I left before the first encore. No more Death Cult Armageddon for me; I needed some shuteye.