Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Pentagram – First Daze Here (The Vintage Collection) (Relapse)
Relapse unearthed and compiled this collection of doom/punk bong rattlers from the legendary Pentagram, a Virginia outfit who recorded sporadically from 1971 to 1976 (and who continue today in revived form). Julian Cope, in turn, made it his album of the month for March. Good on him, for this is a righteous band, a cauldron of Sabbath and Stooges, or Kiss sans the bubblegum.

Their tunes are short with blunt power chords and vocals sung to the riff just like Sabbath or maybe Tull, whom “Walk in the Blue Light” brings to mind. The unassuming nature of the songs is their most outstanding quality, as if the riffs just sprang fully formed from the guitarist’s hands and spontaneously morphed into songs with no worry or elaboration. Pentagram sounds committed to these songs, giving them that intangible something that goes beyond the actual chords and rhythms and words.

Like any heavy 70s band worth its salt, there is some hippie Christian moralizing (“Review Your Choices”) and two songs with “Lady” in the title (the mighty fine pairing of “Starlady” and “Lazylady”). The collection ends with a fairly lo-fi rehearsal room recording of “Last Days Here” a dirge worthy of the Stooges and the Velvets.

I’ve always maintained that bands in the 70s had it easy, with major labels snapping up anything that had hip, if not hit, potential. I mean, how else do you explain Gentle Giant on Capitol or Magma on A&M? The fact that Pentagram never got a shot at the big time, though, tells me that the business has always been cutthroat and unjust.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

So I’m back after four days of no phone, no ADSL, no connection to the outside world save Jetbot and Mr. Sweets’ phone and yelling really loud out the window. Timeline: first we stopped receiving incoming calls. We summoned Telus, only to have the landlord shoo the serviceperson away lest there be some kind of charge for the visit. Then we waited for three days while the landlord routed wire, drilled holes, tore a gash into our wall, trod grit into our floor, and left us with…no dial tone. I called the landlord for a progress report: “You’re gonna have to call Telus now.” They came Tuesday and put everything right again.

While all the drilling and plaster gouging went on, Fancy and I were in Victoria, spending the money we won on a pull-tab ticket a few weeks ago and living the good life. We stayed over Friday and Saturday nights, walked around tourist town, went to the museum, tried to find where Fancy and Jetbot had their store, ate a breakfast of pure holocaust at rebar, and shopped.

Downtown Victoria is only about four blocks by four blocks, but it’s an action-packed patch of land. While Fancy was at Value Village, I checked out Lyle’s Place, having been amused by their homegrown TV ads that ran on CHEK 6 for years. It’s a pretty decent store, with tons of metal at sub-Scrape prices. I was hoping to find mass vinyl, but they only had a couple of sad, neglected bins in the back. Their classification system was dubious as well—who put Bif Naked in the punk/alternative section?

After that, Fancy took me down Fantan alley to The Turntable. This was more like it—a total prog/psych freakshow of rare vinyl and obscure CDs. Finding a JPT Scare Band album was the first clue that I was in friendly territory. The second clue was the copy of VdGG’s H to He tacked up on the wall. Clearly I’d have to be on my game in this place. Those bins could be hiding anything. I didn’t have all day to rifle through everything, so I tried to recall some titles I might find. When I flip through LPs I inevitably get distracted and forget things as quickly as I remember them. Luckily Fancy was there to back me up, scoring me a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram. Holy jeez. Have I mentioned lately how much I love that woman?

We even managed to live the good life on BC Ferries (as impossible as that sounds), eating at the Pacific Buffet and avoiding the riff-raff on the trip home. It beats choking down chicken strips and taco salad on the Queen of Nanaimo to Mayne Island. While gazing past my hillock of mashed potatoes at the scenery through Active Pass, I began to hope that everything would be fine when we got home, that we’d have a dial tone and no longer be at the mercy of other people’s cock-ups. Then I got home and picked up the phone…

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

A guilty pleasure from an existence defined by guilty pleasures: The Pursuit of Happiness. I mean, come on. They’re like one step up from The Odds. They had one hit, a novelty tune that no one ever wants to hear again. Every aging Shannon and Gary probably has a copy of Love Junk languishing in the depths of their CD wallet, sandwiched between Bootsauce and Len.

But TPOH were a top pop group, and so much better than that one hit. Moe Berg seemed like an unpretentious guy, a songwriter who took his craft, if not himself, seriously. I’ve always imagined that the humour in his songs—directed at himself as often at those who've wronged him—rubs people the wrong way. Trying to be funny isn’t very cool. I’m a staunch defender of humour in music (two words that settle the debate: The Beatles), but I’ll admit that the humour gambit can go very very wrong. There’s no way I can excuse Moxy Fruvous, for instance (what’s worse, they also unleashed Jean Ghomeshi on the Mother Corp). For me TPOH get away with it because they deliver their punchlines via some good old Telecaster crunch.

My favourite TPOH album is Where’s the Bone from 1995. The band had hit their twilight years. They had bounced from Chrysalis to Mercury to Iron Music, where they released their final albums, Where’s the Bone and The Wonderful World of… (1996). Both of these records are probably the best of the catalogue: tightly constructed and filled with short, bitter, hilarious songs.

Where’s the Bone has a full quota of novelty tunes, of which “White Man” is the most problematic— it strays too close to The Odds’ misunderstood but still execrable “Heterosexual Man”. Still, Moe gets in a few good couplets (“We like funk and rap and Marley and the Wailers/but when we hit 30 it’s Kenny G and James Taylor”) and musically it’s an action-packed two and a half minutes.

“Gretzky Rocks” is a more successful example, if only because it’s the right and privilege of every Canadian band to write a hockey song. It’s a corny little faux-country number, but I can’t help but feel a bit of secondhand civic pride with a lyric like “When I lived in Edmonton/he made us the City of Champions.” This one can confidently share the bench with The Rheostatics’ “Ballad of Wendel Clark” in the annals of rink rock.

And the rest—hit after hit, pretty much, from the opener “Kalendar” to the penultimate blast “Falling In” (closer “Blowing Bubbles” drags a bit, though it’s pretty and nice). You can’t tell me “Completely Conspicuous” isn’t better than half the tunes on Candy Apple Grey. These are quality songs, and despite my love of everything bloated and bombastic, they’re all the stronger for being under four minutes long.

Where’s the Bone is one of the great Canadian pop-rock albums, up there with Max Webster’s High Class in Borrowed Shoes, The Rheostatics’ Melville, and Forever Again by Erics Trip.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Removal at The Brickyard, March 5
It seems like half a decade since I’ve been to the Brickyard, but it hasn’t changed much. They must have done some soundproofing as a courtesy to the neighbourhood, because out on the sidewalk I couldn’t hear a thing even though Dollar Store Jesus, a three-piece with a debilitating Nirvana hangover, were going full bore inside. Smash and I heard DSJ’s last few songs – meh. I was more interested in Smash’s new futuristic microelectronic MP3 recording thing, which is the size of a Bic lighter. I might have to get one. If I can hook it up to my phone call recording device it’ll be perfect for interviews.

Who’s that on stage now? Chi Pig? It has to be; no one else is that damn wiry. As soon as he started hollering, I knew for sure. I don’t think I’ve seen him since I caught The Wongs opening for The Screaming Trees at the Commodore a helluva long time ago. His new band is called Slaveco, and they were pretty entertaining. Musically they weren’t too different from SNFU, and Chi’s antics—climbing on and off the stage, getting in people’s faces, playing with an assortment of masks, hand puppets and other props—haven’t changed much. Even if the songs weren’t immediately memorable, catching Slaveco’s set was a nice bonus to the evening.

I need a handy catchphrase to describe Removal, but I can’t come up with one. They’re a trio and they play instrumentals that sound like Rush or Metallica strained through a punk rock filter to remove the fatty verses and solos. Tonight they posted a sign behind the drums that read, “Sorry, the projector is broken” to explain the lack of the traditional slide show during their set. The music had to do even more of the talking than usual. Removal rejects the tyranny of song titles, so I can only say that they played the fast one, the faster one, a few new ones, that really tricky one, and that really catchy one. And also “Frankenstein.” If I can suggest a cover tune for the future, I’d like to see them do “Hocus Pocus.” They could sample the yodelling same as they sample the synth bits in “Frankenstein.” The band was super tight and heavy, and more people should have been there to see them.

After the show, their drummer, spotting Smash’s Voivod shirt, mentioned that they’ve recorded a song with Snake for their guest vocalist 7-inch series. They’re just trying to collect enough funds to press and release it. Smash and I did our bit for the cause, loading up on mass merch.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Puppet Show

I saw Deep Purple last Friday night on the Mike Bullard show, where they performed "Highway Star" and a new song (as the end credits rolled). The guest before them was an elderly yo-yo champion. I'm sorry, but I couldn't stop thinking "PUPPET SHOW and Spinal Tap."
Purple were great anyway.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Anekdoten—Gravity (Virta 004)
Anekdoten produce a beautiful but suffocating din. Their sound is defined by Jan Erik Liljestrom’s throaty Rickenbacker bass and by the mellotron, played primarily by Anna Sofi Dahlberg. Between those two extremes sits the alternately chiming and grinding guitar work of Nicklas Barker and Peter Nordins’ loose, relaxed drumming. According to their bio, the band started out playing King Crimson covers, and this influence remains, mainly in the dark mood that they conjure with that bass and mellotron churning away. However, Anekdoten’s style is much less angular and more propulsive than Crimson's. Once they get up a head of steam (usually in 3/8), they’re unstoppable. Gravity is their latest album, and it’s really doing it for me. If certain discussion group posts are to be believed, Anekdoten are getting more commercial with each release. This is laughable. They’re not exactly Nickelback. “Ricochet” is probably the most user-friendly song on here. I can’t pin down who it reminds me of—maybe early Simple Minds. It’s got an unapologetically big, sweeping chorus, but just when you think the song’s edging closer to the mainstream they blow their cover with a crazy Farfisa organ solo before the final verse. Brilliant. The next song, “The War is Over” is obscured by the same psychedelic haze as Sabbath's “Planet Caravan,” though it's a more fully fleshed-out composition. (There’s a strange little video for this song on the official Web site.) The remaining tracks all produce varying degrees of menace; “SW4” being particularly malevolent, featuring a bass line for the ages and a male/female vocal approach. About the vocals: many feel they’re Anekdoten’s weak point, and I’d agree that they are an acquired taste. They’re not exactly typical of the genre—instead of cloning Gabriel, Anderson or Hammill, Barker’s voice is more akin to David Byrne attempting to channel Bryan Ferry. I appreciate its individuality, though, and the occasional Swedish accent intrusion (“A blue whippoorwill sings/on the udder side of the rain”) adds a bit of charm. Anekdoten are playing down in Baja this weekend with IQ and Deus Ex Machina, and the fact that I’m not going has me a bit depressed.