Friday, January 30, 2004

Low-carb beer eats a dick. Big Rock, I used to respect you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I went to a dinner party last weekend at Robert Strandquist’s place. All the invitees, including Fancy lady, had helped him with his new novel, The Dreamlife of Bridges (Anvil Press, $18). During a stupendous meal, one of the guests began reminiscing about the Commodore, listing all the shows he’d seen there. “…and I saw Renaissance.” What, with Annie Haslam? That Renaissance? Yes, and apparently they were big on CKLG FM back in the day. I missed out on everything.

Then he mentioned seeing Jethro Tull on the Passion Play tour at the Agrodome for seven bucks. Oh man, cut it out. You’re killing me here.

I filled some gaps in the collection and caught up with some old classics in 2003. Here’s a partial rundown.
Neil Young On the Beach
What took you so long?
I always got it mixed up with Landing on Water, and what I’d heard from LoW didn’t sound so great. I found this cheap reissue on the Reprise “Digital Masterpiece Series” while Christmas shopping.
Was it worth the wait?
Definitely. It’s Neil down in the dumps in 1974, dressing down Lynyrd Skynyrd (or perhaps Crosby, Stills and Nash) one more time (“Walk On”) then embarking on a series of more stripped-down numbers, some of which are quite beautiful. “See the Sky About to Rain” and the title track are two of my favourites right now.

John Lennon Plastic Ono Band
What took you so long?
General distrust of Beatles solo albums, and of John Lennon himself. Face it, he was a bit of a monster. My friend Christian Scum recommended this album after checking it out from the library. Then I read in Bill Martin’s Avant Rock that John and Yoko each released an album called Plastic Ono Band in 1970, and I thought that was pretty cool.
Was it worth the wait?
For sure. Like On the Beach, this is a bare bones singer-songwriter kinda album. I knew of songs like “Mother” and “Working Class Hero” by reputation only. I’d never actually heard them. They’re both tortured and brilliant. “Mother,” especially, is not all that easy to listen to. I can imagine Cobain cocking an ear to Lennon’s primal scream therapy and taking notes. Ringo’s on drums for this, so you get two Beatles for the price of one. Now that I’ve popped my solo Beatles cherry, I’ll probably own the entire Wings catalogue before 2004 is done.

Angel self-titled
What took you so long?
Martin Popoff gave this a 10 in his first book, and I’m always up for some early American metal. It took a few years, but I finally found this in the Sally Ann basement for 50 cents.
Was it worth the wait?
Oh yeah. Despite being revolted after getting some of Popoff’s picks (such as a Ronnie Montrose Gamma album that I had to toss after a single listen), this album fully delivers. It’s spectacularly pompous U.S. arena rock, delusionally grand just like early Styx and Kansas, with the odd Zep or Budgie moment thrown in. This also has enough synth leads, mellotrons, acoustic guitars and flutes to induce the required DiffMusic prog coma. There’s party rock in the shape of “Rock & Rollers”—hear this and you’re instantly in some roller rink making the scene with your feathered hair and piping-trimmed shorts. The vocals sound disturbingly like Rik Emmet at times, although they carry much more emotion than that Muppet ever could. This rocks so hard, it’s a mystery that Angel didn’t hit it as big as labelmates Kiss. This album decimates, say, Dressed to Kill. Along with Riot’s Fire Down Under, it’s one of the great unsung American hard rock albums.

The Moody Blues Days of Future Passed
What took you so long?
I always had more challenging assignments than this easy-listening example of proto-prog. Besides, I’d heard all the best parts dozens of times on the radio.
Was it worth the wait?
Sure, why not? It’s a charming period piece, with the Wonderful World of Disney orchestral bits linking the pop songs and “poetry.” I’ve got a huge tolerance for all things twee. The only song that lapses into total pre-Smell the Glove Spinal Tapness is “Another Morning”: “Balloons flying, children sighing, what a day to go kite-flying/Breeze is cool, away from school, cowboys fighting out a duel.” That’s okay, because the brilliant flash of uptempo psychedelia that is “Peak Hour” follows it. I’d never heard this song before, and it rules, as do “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” and fancy’s karaoke favourite “Nights in White Satin.” This album helped point the way to most of the music I care about.

Museo Rosenbach Zarathustra
What took you so long?
Reputed to be one of the finest of all Italian prog albums (“dark” prog at that), I had to finally give in and mail order a CD copy of this 1973 release.
Was it worth the wait?
Yes indeed. It took me a while to get into, but after listening to it about four times through at work today, I’ve decided this is a classic. And forget the prog label; Zarathustra is simply crazy, ambitious rock music. The first “side” is a 20-minute, five-part epic, with three more songs on the flip. Like most Italian bands, they have a strident, declamatory vocalist. The lyrics are all in Italian, so I have no idea what’s going on. I do understand rocking, which is what the rest of the group does. They’re not virtuosos, and the music is mostly keyboard-led with well-composed parts that don’t leave room for solos. I hear an amalgam of symph-rock icons in their music—Genesis, ELP, Tull, with a nod to Van der Graaf at their heaviest. I’m probably nuts, but I hear a bit of Air during “Della Natura,” too. Maybe it’s just the mass Mellotron both bands use. Anyway, add this to the top 20 of 1973, the year before rock attained perfection.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Opeth, Moonspell and DevilDriver, January 23 at the Commodore Ballroom
I was really looking forward to this show. Opeth have been my favourite currently active metal band for about eight years now, and finally they were coming to town. Circumstances intervened, however, and I didn't quite get the show I was expecting.

Devildriver's frontman had an American flag hanging out his back pocket and played up the working class hero angle with the crowd. I didn't hear any songs, though.

The singer for Portugal's Moonspell had a really peculiar accent and looked like a gangly cross between Nick Cave and Hugo Weaving. He faced down a patch of raised middle fingers sprouting from the pit and helped his band gradually win over a fair portion of the crowd. Their midtempo goth metal isn't really my bag anymore (bands like Tiamat and Samael released classic albums in this style, back when we hadn't heard it all before), but their songs came across pretty well. "Opium" is a pretty decent stomper.

With drummer Martin Lopez having flown home, apparently panic stricken over the thought of touring in the land of donut shops and Don Cherry (or more specifically, the land of Ralph Klein and Gordon Campbell), Opeth were in a tight spot. Their drum roadie was behind the kit when they began the concert with a set from Damnation (opening with “In My Time of Need”) and a Deep Purple cover—“Soldier of Fortune” (from the Coverdale-era Stormbringer). Singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt explained the situation well, and the crowd was very forgiving. He joked at one point that they had tried to teach “Black Rose Immortal” (the Morningrise album's nearly 20-minute centrepiece) to the drum tech, but they only had half an hour to do it. Despite the focus on the exclusively mellow new album, I was more than happy. Damnation contained some of the finest songs I heard last year.

After a set of “softies,” as Mikael described them, transplanted local boy Gene Hoglan came on and they did two more songs: “The Drapery Falls” and “Demon of the Fall.” This is what the crowd had been waiting for—some proper Opeth epics. Everyone was well into it, and Mikael's first death vox got a huge cheer. Mikael commented that Gene had nailed the first song in one take during soundcheck; he got the other song in two takes. Come showtime, Gene was bang on.

And that was it—half a set from 3/4 of the band. They appeared as upset about the situation as the crowd was, but overall the gig had a good vibe, truncated as it was. They held an autograph session at the merch table afterwards, but I didn’t stick around for that. I guess I’ll get a more complete impression of what Opeth can do live when I get my hands on the Lamentations DVD. I finally got to see them in the flesh, though, and that counts for a lot.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Refund, please! Disappointing gig stories: Progressive Ears has a ton of them in the OT Forum. I tried to link directly to the topic, but it kept going all pear-shaped.

This mighty fine thread gets off to a roaring start with a story about Miles Davis executing the exact opposite of a roaring start in '74.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Speaking of things (such as LotR) that occupy the mystical border between prog and metal:
"Santas' [sic] cloaks provide unique 'canvasses,' flawlessly showcasing Mr. Agnew's dramatic wolf art."

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

We’ve been on a Twin Peaks kick lately, plowing through a bunch of episodes that I taped when it originally aired. Fancylady never watched the show—she was too busy getting a life at the time.

I can imagine a lot of people still holding a grudge against Twin Peaks. I bet people have bitter memories of inane water cooler conversations about who killed Laura Palmer, or of Halloween parties where four people came as the Log Lady. Even I got tired of “damn good coffee!” and other catchphrasery, the same way that I want to clobber anyone who says “yada yada yada” within earshot these days.

But I won’t question the fact that Twin Peaks is/was quality television. It was probably the first time that an American network produced anything that you could compare favourably to Denis Potter’s The Singing Detective or Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom. It did pretty well in the ratings, too, until, like most American shows, it lost its original spark and outstayed its welcome.

Aside from the occasional mullet on display, Twin Peaks hasn’t dated too badly. Because I already know what’s going to happen plot-wise, I’m finding a lot of other things to enjoy about the show.

* The opening credit sequence of automated saw blade sharpening is really soothing and beautiful.

* The relationship between Major Briggs and his son Bobby is both hilarious and touching. It’s easy to chuckle at the Major (who is always in uniform and speaks in a grave tone that never wavers) and his heartfelt efforts to connect emotionally with his son. Yet it’s hard not to feel for him, because he never gives up or shows any irritability in the face of his son’s utter indifference and contempt.

* There was a time when Lara Flynn Boyle looked like a healthy human being.

* Invitation to Love. This is Twin Peaks’ show within a show, a ridiculous soap opera that’s on TV in the background of many scenes. I guess Invitation to Love is Lynch reminding us, not very subtly, that we’re watching a soap opera ourselves. Anyway, I like that Invitation to Love is always on, day or night, and that all the characters, regardless of age and gender, watch it.

* Jerry Horne and his obsession with exotic food.

* My all-time favourite Twin Peaks scene. Near the end of episode 10 we find ourselves at a singalong (or a recording session?) on the floor of the Palmers’ living room. James, Donna and Maddie sit around some 50s-style microphones. James says, “That was really good. Let’s try it again.” They begin singing a simple ballad whose lyrics mainly consist of “Just you and I/Together forever in love.” James plays a hollow-body electric guitar and sings in an unearthly falsetto. As the song progresses, bass and drums join in. All three kids seem entranced by the sounds they’re making. Donna and Maddie, who’ve come to resemble each other during the episode, sing backup. Donna looks at Maddie looking at James, then at James looking at Maddie, then becomes upset and runs off. James gets up to console her and the music stops abruptly, like the tape was cut. As James and Donna kiss, Maddie, alone and perplexed on the floor, has a frightening vision of BOB.

I love this scene for its randomness. Aside from the romantic tension and Maddie’s vision, it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot. None of the characters have shown any musical inclinations before, and what’s the deal with those microphones and James’s voice? I also love it because of the creepy song they sing. I assume that David Lynch wrote it, because the phrasing is similar to his “Heaven (Lady in the Radiator)” song from Eraserhead. The mysterious James song isn’t on the soundtrack album, unfortunately, so the only way to enjoy it is to watch this scene over and over—which I have.

We’re also watching the Ben Stiller Show these days. I only have a 10-minute scrap of it on tape as evidence of its brief lifespan, but fancy got me the whole works on DVD for my birthday. There’s a definite early 90s slant to our entertainment intake right now. Where will it end? I invite you to break down our door and berate us if we start listening to The Spin Doctors.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I had a good birthday week. I'm the last of the family line in Vancouver right now (everyone's flown to New Zealand), but fancy and friends kept me entertained over the weekend. The belter and I saw LoTR RotK on Friday night. Jetbot posted this first, but Lord of the Rings is very metal...and extremely prog, I should add. Hobbits and elves = prog. Orcs and men = metal. All the talk of Minas Morgul in the movie made me want to slap on the namesake album by Summoning, who are probably the most Tolkienesque metal band ever, aside from Isildur's Bane, Amon Amarth, Isengard, Nazgul, Cirith Ungol, Gorgoroth, and (Sil)Marillion.

On Saturday we ate Greek with Mel and Adam (thanks!). It was so good I had to deploy the hollow leg. Back home, there was nothing but figure skating on TV, but I got to see this one skater who'd selected "Dust in the Wind" for her long program. We decided she must have been from Quebec. No artistically timid Anglophone athlete would invite spectators to contemplate their own mortality at a figure skating competition.

Fancylady's been sick for a while, and she finally succumbed to laryngitis later that night. The next morning, her voice approximated Deirdre Barlow's oxygen-starved wheeze. It felt like the Drear herself was next to me on the couch for Sunday morning Corrie. She tried out a quick impression—"Oh, Ken!"—and it was stunning. I asked her to give me a "Tracy luv," but she'd finished channelling Deirdre for the day. Oh, well, if I want Corrie impressions, I can always enjoy my favourite—Glen Campbell as Roy Cropper.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Greetings from Vancouver, where severe winter weather doesn't stop people from wearing yoga pants.

On days like today, I can almost believe that this city won't look completely idiotic when it hosts the Winter Olympics.

Monday, January 05, 2004

“No more groceries—only DVDs.”
This is the new household credo, thanks to a present from the awesomely generous Fraylors. We may go hungry…but we’ll never be starved for entertainment (boom-ching).

I’ve been having concert dreams lately. Last night I dreamt that I went to see Djam Karet at the Pacific Coliseum. About eight people were there, and my friend Smash was a no-show. I’m always alone in concert dreams. I also had a dream about the Deep Purple/Thin Lizzy show coming to the Orpheum this February. I was walking up the aisle trying to find my seat when I came upon a feisty Cloris Leachman, who insulted both my gender and my economic status during our brief exchange. My seat, it turned out, was in the last row and faced the back wall. Concerts bring out the worrier in me.

Fancylady and I will be going to the Purple/Lizzy gig. My concert dream-cycle may be over by then, but fancy will have to face her worst nightmare—witnessing a performance of “The Boys Are Back in Town.”