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.