Saturday, December 30, 2006

21 Tandem Repeats—Never Wanted to be Anyone (Canada Lynx)
In his efforts to promote the band, I think Super Robertson used to get frustrated trying to nail down a tidy description for 21 Tandem Repeats. What genre did they fit into? His old band, Roadbed, used to mix jazz with indie rock; now with a revamped band that includes Roadbed drummer Two Sticks Hobbs, Willingdon Black, and Alvaro Rojas, he’s injected a little folk into the mix. But is it folky enough for folkies; does it rock hard enough for rockers? In the end, he found the perfect outlet for the band: 7:30 to 8:30 every Wednesday night at the Railway Club, with the occasional “away” gig to mix things up and get in front of a new crowd. It’s good early-evening music—easy on the ears and good for any soul battered by the working day. If I had to call their music anything, I’d arm myself with a huge grain of very salty salt and suggest “tree planter rock”—amiable, groove-focused, head-bobbin’ stuff. I can hear it on a song like “Wishing Machine”—just a couple chords and a groove and a line that goes, “I’m here to get down.” Sounds like not much, I know, but Super’s scattershot sense of lyrical phrasing and the guitar touches of his latest foil, Willingdon Black, make it more than a blissed-out 4:20 jam band nodfest.

Never Wanted to be Anyone is a little slow out of the gate, with a mellow half dozen tracks highlighted by “Jupiter,” a lovely song in a novel 6/4 groove, written by Dave Hind, one of Robertson’s musical mentors. The next song, “Fuse Lit Bombs,” originally appeared in more ethereal form on 21 TR’s debut home job release the ocean is life. This version is far more “produced,” with abrupt changes in drum beats that actually make it less folky than the original. It’s still a strong number, although it’s nothing like the version you’ll hear on the previous release or at the Railway Club. “Blue Skies” is dedicated to Super’s daughter and, as befits its “hope for the future” sentiments, incorporates the sweet stylings of guest vocalist Land of Deborah.

The second half of the album is definitely more exuberant, starting with the deliberate & driving title track, on which WB asserts his presence via a lead guitar duel with himself during the song’s lengthy run-out. “Failure” really takes things into rockland, where SR’s self-deprecating lyrics butt against WB’s feisty lead guitar. Everything works here—this is how the band sounds live—as it does on “Dish Pig,” another Dave Hind song with lyrics by the late Steve Waller (to whom tribute is paid in the superbly presented liner notes). The album bows out with “Maiden,” a mold-breaking number that abandons the usual groove formula in favour of stringing together some cool parts. Top it off with vocals by Sim Special of SuperSimian fame, and it almost sounds like a different band. It’s a welcome deviation in the songwriting approach and a strong number to go out on. This album lives up to its title. 21 Tandem Repeats don’t want to be anyone (other than themselves). They’re tight, smart, and completely free of attitude or pretension. They’re through being cool. I wonder what they’re doing in the music business.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, everybody.
I hope your 2007 is filled with music and mirth. Enjoy! I got a hot mug o' Baileys and coffee going; now it's time to check out that present (plus some others that Santa dropped off last night).

Monday, December 18, 2006

Burn to Black—Mach 666 (Urgent Music)
Toronto’s Burn To Black are here to celebrate the fact that metal is awesome. It's awesome when vocalist Rob Ouellette yells lines like “See the fuckin' violence!” or when he urges us and his bandmates along with "Let's rock! Come on!" on “The Vanishing.” Drummer Evan Johnston has the taste and judgment to know that laying it down four-on-the-floor like Phil Rudd on crack is just as awesome as your requisite death metal blasts and double kicks. Guitarists Paul Harrington and Mike Krestel have done an awesome job of honing their tone to a hyper-saturated state of serrated savagery. And bassist Sam Dunn is so convinced of metal’s awesomeness that he made a damn feature film about it. Burn to Black play a most pestilent, caustic form of thrash, with toxic traces of Swedish death, tight and speedy at times like At the Gates. As befits such enthusiastic connoisseurs of the art, their style is pure, free from niceties like keyboards and vocals that do anything but rasp and snarl in the nastiest of ways. I don't hear too much leeway in their sound, nor much to choose between the 11 tracks (plus one awesome Celtic Frost cover), but they do throw up some strong songs, like the superbly titled "Winter Rancid Skies," opener "Hellspell," and album closer "Microcosmic/Broken Lands," which delivers one of the best choruses on the album. I wouldn't mind hearing more variety in the material, with different musical shades within songs and between songs—it's not until the last half of "Microcosmic/Broken Lands" that we're granted relief from the hack & slash ripride of the previous 10 songs—but I can appreciate the excitement of a band intent on making their initial recorded statement as ferocious as humanly possible. With massive production and precise performances, the whole thing adds up to an awesome statement of “more metal than thou.” Even the title, Mach666, throws you a wink before unleashing exactly what it promises—Satan beyond the speed of sound, thrashing anything within range of the shock waves. Burn to Black have released a beer-fueled master-class in metal...and a pretty awesome debut album.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Considah yourself one of the family!
A Christmas card arrives from fancy's aunt and uncle in Ontario. The salutation reads, "Jennifer, Cypress, ??"

Oh well. I appreciate the glad tidings, if not the fact-checking.

The Mule entertains at a family gathering in Fulton

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Steve Tyler, eat your heart out.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Neurosis, November 25 at El Corazon (Seattle)
I've been willfully ignorant of Seattle concerts during my lifetime. While other Vancouverites head down there regularly for shows, I try to not to notice the fact that, say, Porcupine Tree might be playing there in a couple weeks. Friends of mine have their stories of going down to see King Diamond or Black Sabbath or Dream Theater, while I take in whatever shows I can see here and feel grateful that I don't live in Flin Flon (which, admittedly, is the City Built on Rock). But now that I have a passport burning a hole in my pocket and a belting travelling companion in fancylady, the idea of going to a gig in Seattle seemed not so risky and far-fetched. The news that Neurosis would be playing on a Saturday night in November put everything in motion. Conditions were perfect. We were going south.

Neurosis used to tour regularly. Smash and I saw them twice up here on the Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace tours. Shortly after that, they semi-retired from touring to concentrate on their day jobs and raising their kids. In the meantime the band we went to see on a whim at the Town Pump (only to have our heads caved in) became one of the most influential bands in heavy music. As fearless pioneers who steered crusty hardcore towards territory claimed by Slint and Pink Floyd, they showed the way for dozens of bands fighting it out there today, from the majestic Isis to heavy-hitters like Mastodon.

Despite the decreased roadwork, the albums kept coming—A Sun That Never Sets (2001) and The Eye of Every Storm (2004) were both mammoth statements of slow-burning intensity. Clearly their retreat from the full-time rock life hadn't watered down their approach at all. The thought of them performing material from those two great albums was another powerful lure for me.

On this tour, they'd be playing just two shows in the Northwest (Seattle and Portland) before heading into the studio to record the next album. Neurot labelmates Grails opened for them at El Corazon with a set of instrumentals that used a lot of interesting Middle-Eastern sounding intervals and a good dose of twang. In fact, some of their material sounded like a rocked-up take on Earth's deathly & dessicated C&W style from their Hex... album. They also swapped instruments throughout their set; something I get a kick out of seeing. Good stuff, and they went over well.

When Neurosis play it's not so much a rock concert as a high-minded, gut-level cathartic ritual. Their songs have so much gravity; you can imagine them sweating over every nuance during their conception. Their live approach has the same ultra-premeditated feel. Every second is accounted for, and assigned a sound or visual for maximum impact. When songs end, prerecorded segues fill the space while the band retune. The projections behind the band show footage of wolf packs running in slow motion, time-lapse flowers blooming then rotting, or dead animals decaying. Gone are the days when their visuals guy used to set up his custom scaffold for the slide and film projectors and do everything "live"—now the images are all on DVD. "The Tide" opened the set, a song that nicely sums up the Neurosis aesthetic over the last decade with its sparse opening and slow buildup to the inevitable explosion of relentless riffage. "The Doorway" (from Times of Grace) followed immediately, upping the levels of chaos and unleashing one of the heaviest riffs in their catalogue—if you've heard the song you know the one. Pure devastation. The set included a couple new songs that fit right in with the likes of "Crawl Back In," "Left to Wander" and "From Where the Roots Run." As fancy noted, the club was way overcrowded (oversold?) and hot. This added to the intensity of the show, though. The band—by all accounts very nice guys—were utterly rabid. Scott Kelly, a man given to punctuating his vocals by headbutting the mike, was bleeding from the forehead by the end. There was no encore. The whole idea of Neurosis coming back onstage to perform some crowd-pleasing "hit" is laughable. That's the kind of ritual you get at any other show.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fancy and I were all set to see The Decemberists last Sunday night when I stumbled across the news (at another blog) that the gig was postponed until—appropriately enough—December. Too bad, but at least it gives Fancy a chance to get over her cold, and me some more opportunities to listen to The Crane Wife, a fine, fine album that gets a lot of play around here when I'm away at the office. I managed to sneak it out of the house a few weeks ago and add it to my iTunes at work.

Robert Altman, RIP
My favourite of his movies is the mind-bendingly odd and brilliant Three Women (which I first chanced upon on Bravo! many years ago...gotta rent that Criterion edition again) followed by Nashville (which I first saw in a film class at UBC). They don't make them like that anymore. Trivia note, six degrees of separation-style: my former boss, an old hand in the BC film industry, played a corpse in McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
It's been a wet November around here, and after various sewer backups, floods and water-shed landslides, we've been advised to boil our water for the past few days. Still, anyone who says, "I feel like we're living in a third-world country" (as I heard on the radio this morning) should f**k right off...and actually try living in a third-world country.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Things are pretty quiet on the Difficult Music, eh, Mule?" said Super Robertson after I intercepted him and Kaiya walking up to the IGA yesterday. Very true. Thing is, it's never quiet anywhere else with me. If I could translate just a fraction of the noise I subject myself to every day onto this page, I'd be happy.

So where have I been?

1. Edmonton—While fancylady was away on her book tour, I went to visit my friend Greg (Dead City Radio) and his family and had a long weekend jamfest out in his Sherwood Park studio. His entomology summer student Brock joined us on bass (bringing along most of the riffage), and we got a fair amount recorded for future tweaking and overdubs.

2. In front of this computer—Finishing up the next Unrestrained! My stuff came together at the last minute as always. I should have four stories in this issue: Estradasphere (a fantastically uncategorizable Santa Cruz instrumental band), Noway's White Willow (another great email interview with Jacob Holm-Lupo), Antiquus (a local band who've just released an impressive album, Eleutheria, through Cruz del Sur), and Toronto writer Yashin Blake, of Titanium Punch fame. I was especially happy to get Yashin in the mag, because I've wanted to interview him for years now and never had the right forum until I got my Media Blitz column. He delivered one of the best email interviews I've ever received. It worked so well, I decided to present it as a straightforward Q & A. I barely had to touch it.

3. Blind Guardian at the Commodore—I barely know this band's material at all (in fact, "Into the Storm" is the only song I recognized, and they opened with it!), but I had a great time. They drew a good crowd of metalheads, most of whom knew every word. I would have never guessed there were so many BG fans here, but I suppose any band that's been around for close to 20 years and released eight albums is going to pick up a following. I thought they had a definite charm. Hansi Kursch is a gruff-but-lovable singer—definitely not the usual power metal castrato—and the rest of the band were rock solid. With the full-on staging, slides and projections, it was the closest thing to a mini-Wacken or Dynamo Festival I'll ever experience.

4. At the movies—Well, a movie. We went to see For Your Consideration Saturday night. Never mind the middling reviews, this is brilliant and hilarious. I'll admit that Christopher Guest's premise—egos flare up during the filming of a humble family drama after a rumour gets out that the lead actress (Catherine O'Hara) might get an Oscar nomination—isn't the most outrageous, nor are the characters as precisely drawn as they were in Waiting For Guffman or Best In Show, but overall the movie hit its (rather broad) targets effortlessly. I think of Guest's movies, with their humane-yet-pointed humour and the presence of O'Hara and Eugene Levy, as the continuation of the spirit of SCTV, and as such, I'll always be there to watch whenever that cast gets together. Also, Fred Willard gets a decent amount of screen time here, and he's completely out of control. To me, he's one of the funniest people on the planet. When's Fernwood 2Night coming out on DVD? Do I have to go look it up on YouTube?

Geez, look at this article, which draws parallels between Fernwood 2Night and Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, which I was just watching this evening. On that bombshell of synchronicity, I'd better get to bed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

By the way, you Canadians might enjoy Canada Week over at Heavy Metal Time Machine. Check it out; the inimitable Metal Mark has selected an interesting trio of albums to review, and added some edumacational comments from a couple Canuck bloggers about the Canadian music industry and metal scene.
The Top 15 Albums of 2006 (Unrestrained! magazine version)
With deadlines approaching for the year-end issue, I had to come up with a top 15 for the year. I wouldn't mind having another few weeks to mull this over...maybe give that Celtic Frost album another listen, or find out if that Gathering album had any staying power. But the best thing to do is not to think about it too hard, sort out a list that looks valid as of tonight, and fire it off. Here's what I submitted.

1. Comets On Fire—Avatar (Sub Pop)
2. Six Organs Of Admittance—The Sun Awakens (Drag City)
3. Devin Townsend Band—Synchestra (InsideOut)
4. Napalm Death—Smear Campaign (Century Media)

5. The Brought Low—Right On Time (Small Stone)
6. Mastodon—Blood Mountain (Warner Brothers)
7. Zombi—Surface To Air (Relapse)
8. Kayo Dot—Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue (Robotic Empire)
9. Voivod—Katorz (The End)
10. Estradasphere—Palace Of Mirrors (The End)
11. Dysrhythmia—Barriers And Passages (Relapse)

12. Tragedy—Nerve Damage (Tragedy)
13. OSI—Free (InsideOut)
14. Anata—The Conductor’s Departure (Wicked World)
15. Madder Mortem—Desiderata (Peaceville)

They also served: Enslaved—Ruun, Katatonia—The Great Cold Distance, Agalloch—Ashes Against The Grain, The Gathering—Home, Melvins—A Senile Animal, Mogwai—Mr. Beast, Pearls and Brass—The Indian Tower

Monday, November 06, 2006

PJ Harvey—The Peel Sessions (Island)
It’s PJ Harvey freakout time again, with a release that I’ve hoped to hear for a long time now. The Peel Sessions rounds up a dozen tracks from 1991 to 2004 as Polly's way of saying thank you to her long-time supporter John Peel (RIP). “John’s opinion mattered to me,” she writes in the booklet. “More than I would ever care to admit, for fear of embarrassment on both sides.” The sessions appear in chronological order, starting with four songs from 1991. “Oh My Lover” is raw and anguished, “Victory” and “Sheela-Na-Gig” are fiercely rendered, and while “Water” was never one of my favourite songs off Dry, it stands out on its own here with its stutter beat and spartan yet dynamic presentation. Stephen Vaughan's steely bass lines in particular take this song over the top. The ’93 session (presumably round the time of Rid of Me) features two tracks that never made it onto an album—the riotous “Naked Cousin” and a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” which is just completely salacious. I’ve wanted to hear this track for ages. I think it came out as a b-side back in the day, but I was too slack to track it down at the time. (PJH has always put out great b-sides.) In 1996 she recorded—along with John Parish, her partner for that year’s Dance Hall at Louse Point—another obscurity, "Losing Ground" (dig that throaty Telecaster sound…it must be a Telecaster), "Snake" (sounding just as caustic as the original 4-Track Demo), and “That Was My Veil,” pretty much the first time the album eases off the throttle. “This Wicked Tongue” and “Beautiful Feeling” follow from 2000, and the album closes with “You Come Through” from the John Peel Tribute Concert in 2004. As I said, I’ve wished for a PJ Harvey Peel Sessions album for years. There’s a lot of love in these songs’ presentation, and as a thank you and tribute to a fine gentleman and an important figure in music, it’s perfect.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nothing to be too ashamed of here. Pour yourself a cup of tea and join us in the basement.

Thanks to Smash, who shot and edited.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bob Drake—What Day Is It? (Ad Hoc Records)
Bob Drake is definitely hero material. Why? He’s created a ton of fascinating music with the 5UU’s and Thinking Plague (two long-running American RIO outfits) and by himself on a number of solo albums, the first of which, 1994’s What Day Is It?, was reissued last year. Drake has also produced, engineered, and mastered a bunch of other artists’ work, underlining his status as a kingpin of the worldwide avant-prog scene, such as it is. He lives in France.

In the booklet, Drake notes that the original album was limited to around 300 copies. The grunt work involved, both in hand-making each CD package and in marketing a self-released album, limited the record’s initial lifespan and kept it from reaching as many people as it could have. For this edition, Drake’s reworked the booklet art only—the music is exactly as it was presented in 1994. And it’s fantastically peculiar, kind of a homespun progressive rock full of unpredictable segues and diversions. I find it more accessible and immediately enjoyable than his other bands’ work, though no less complex and rigorously conceived. The songs, which rarely break the four-minute mark, are like detailed little curios, etchings of mysterious scenes evoking dark nostalgia. Experiencing the album is like discovering an abandoned manor and clambering through the overgrown garden, then peering through the windows at the shrouded furnishings inside. You half expect each dust cover to rise up as a ghost and fly at you.

And hey, the opening track, a ramshackle thing called “The House,” talks of such an empty place where the narrator “went down into the cellar/and saw something on a table/it was surrounded by strange tools/I thought it moved./Now I hear wings.” Hearing this in Drake’s keening voice (which a lot of reviewers rightly liken to Jon Anderson) lends a gleeful eeriness to it. The instrumental “Weeds” blows the dust off with its hoedown-paced slew of tricky picking, handclaps, breakdowns and general backcountry joie de vivre. This kind of feel is repeated for parts of “Spiders” (before that track takes a turn for the ethereal), but the rest of the album resides in a hairy-scary cloister where occasional glimmers of cheerfully warped pop leak through (“The Drawing” and “The 13th Animal”) before being shut out by shady lurkers like might-as-well-be-an-Opeth-excerpt “Death Valley” and “The Cemetery Trees,” which ends in the kind of macabre sing-song that Drake fully explored on The Skull Mailbox, an amazing album that’ll give you goosebumps on your goosebumps, as Count Floyd once said. Having only heard The Skull Mailbox before, I was hesitant to taint its precious uniqueness by risking another Bob Drake purchase. What if his other stuff wasn’t up to the same level of inspiration? I shouldn’t have worried; he's had the goods from day one.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jack Lord Tarmac
Here's one for Mr. Willingdon Black, as seen at the Honolulu Airport. Posted by Picasa
Aloha from Kauai. I've been here since last Friday for a technical communication conference. Fancylady and I have been driving around, baking in the sun, hitting happy hour at the hotel every night (Bud Light all around!), and generally taking it easy after a long, troubled summer.

The nearest I've come to rocking out here has been overhearing one of the local musicians (hired as part of the nightly entertainment) running through "Stairway to Heaven" on the bandstand. I miss my music, but I think taking a breather from it has been good. I'll be rejoining the fray in a few days. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fancylady picked up this book while in Edmonton for her TV thing on the Labour Day weekend. It's crazy compulsive reading; the kind of book that grabs you right away. For me "right away" meant page 4, where 13-year-old Liza Normal, our protagonist, says to her mother, "I ate a plate of dicks again, Mom," after failing an audition for a TV commercial. I want to call the book a picaresque, but I'm not sure it exactly fits that definition. The novel plots Liza's floundering course as she tries to become a star despite having no idea how to apply what little talent she has. Cintra Wilson is scary cool and scary smart, and clearly knows the seamy underbelly of showbiz and the souless people who dwell there. I got the sense that many names had been changed to protect the guilty.

When I finished it on the bus today, the last name in the acknowledgements brought me up short: "the late, great Kevin Gilbert." The Kevin Gilbert, the songwriting genius behind The Shaming of the True (which I had listed as one of the great post-1990 progressive rock albums)? I thought about it, and the connection made sense. Both Wilson and Gilbert's work paints broad strokes of cynicism and disgust mixed with humour and a good deal of tempered with "what can I do; it's all I know" resignation about the milieu of money, fame, and massive, misguided talent that they've written about.

This is quite beautiful: Cintra Wilson remembers Kevin Gilbert.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'm having a heavy evening jumping back and forth between the BraveBoard and Myspace. Tim from Evil Legend Records has his mitts on Toronto's Blood Ceremony, who are looning around in a Pentagram/Witchcraft/Burning Saviours proto-doom haze. It took about 20 seconds of "Children of the Future" for me to almost soil myself. Brilliant, and I can't wait until Tim puts their album out.

The Energizer called me up earlier and weighed in with Danava, from Portland and signed to Kemado Records. The album comes out on Halloween, the perfect time to hurl yourself into a bonfire of fuzzed-out riffage, electronic effects, and (hail!) vocals that actually add melody and expression to the songs. These guys are touring with Witchcraft in October and playing Seattle on a Monday night, which kinda scuppers any quick trip down south to catch them without missing work. Hearing this band almost makes up for losing Portland doom heroes YOB last year.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dysrhythmia—Barriers and Passages (Relapse)
I thought Pretest, this number-crunching instrumental trio's debut for Relapse, was a bit drab, but this follow-up triumphs over it in all aspects. I don't know whether the catalyst was their new bassist, Colin Marston (also of Behold...the Arctopus) or the switch to producer Martin Bisi (who captures the action in near-pornographic detail), but they've really ramped it up here. Like Don Caballero, they're working with guitar/bass/drums in the Mule-approved tech-punk-avant-prog manner. Their playing is more ensemble-based, though, with the emphasis on punishingly tight unison passages. No instrument is emphasized over the others—the guitar spazzes out, the bass grinds away, and the drums snap-crackle-pop. Opening track "Pulsar" is a moody overture to introduce "Appeared at First," where we get a true picture of the 36-minute assault on restraint and musical politeness that awaits. The rest of the album rains down in a storm of jagged grooves and micro-sections, pieced together carefully enough to avoid the unmusical rut-digging to which lesser bands with equally advanced chops might succumb. For every "Seal/Breaker/Void"—the album's centerpiece that fuses punk/noise/postrock/black metal (!)—there's a "Kamma Niyama," which could almost be a TV theme tune, given its wickedly abrasive take on the type of hooky melodicism that Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet peddled. The dissonant guitar drones of "Sleep Decayer" are what Bisi's old clients Sonic Youth might sound like with a less sleepy rhythm section, while "Luminous" offers a calming ambient antidote—just guitars tolling random notes amidst echo and gentle feedback. "Will the Spirit Prevail" races to the album's finish with more breakneck action. Dysrhythmia are smashing old barriers, blasting new passages, and making towering art out of the splinters and the rubble.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I'll bring you the show, little girl...

Posting YouTube vids is the last refuge of a scoundrel, but man, check out the Scorps! Whose idea was it to put Klaus on a lower riser than the rest of the band?
This one goes out to South Burnaby.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Don Caballero – World Class Listening Problem (Relapse)

Pittsburgh instrumental trio Don Caballero have been around since the early '90s, when the term "math rock" came to describe the kind of blues-free, proggy, King Crimsonic, heavy-non-metal sounds that a handful of bands (usually with a single degree of separation from Steve Albini) pursued. It was basically music made by white guys with lots of time on their hands for an audience of likeminded nerds. I latched onto this style but only ever found a handful of bands and LPs to pick up at the time. The style never died out, though, and with bands like Botch (RIP), The Wayward, and Dysrythmia steering the style towards hardcore, all-out prog, metal and/or jazz fusion, the time is right for Don Caballero to jump back into the fray with a new lineup and new album—their fifth full-length and first for Relapse.

I’d describe Don Cab’s current sound as “tense.” The instruments come together, diverge, and come together again, building often complex songs out of unison and dischord. As always, founding member Damon Che’s drums are the lead instrument. His style is massive and commanding—rolling and roiling over, under and all around whatever the rest of the band is playing. The guitars on the opening track, “mmmmm acting, I love me some good acting,” alternately squall and thud along with the rhythm section. The song also makes space for a percussion breakdown, then tightly wound sections in 5 and 3, before laying out for a loosely structured ending with layers of looped guitars. “Sure we had knives around” uses more guitar looping without become repetitive, rapidly moving from section to section during its five minutes. “And and and, he lowered the twin down” rocks hard & skronky for its entire length, as does the title track. At times the band takes a more melodic, conventionally structured turn, as on the sunny, rollicking “Palm trees in the fecking Bahamas” and “Railroad cancellation,” an easygoing tune that benefits from not being in a hurry to go anywhere. While the overall feel of the music is tense, there are a few relaxing stretches along the way. With a guitarist who manages to sound like two, a drummer who plays like three, and a bassist who wisely stays out of the way and finds his own space to work in, Don Caballero are sounding really good at the moment, and World Class Listening Problem is a powerful comeback album.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I went into battle with my old musical nemesis, Power Metal, last night at the Croatian Cultural Centre. Not just any variety of Power Metal, but DragonForce, the mightiest, speediest, floofiest, most flighty, nonsensical power metal band in creation. DragonForce have become a big deal in the last few months, and the show was sold out. Amazing what a few YouTube videos and strategically placed MP3s can do for a band's notoriety.

I was expecting the two opening bands to provide the evening's musical highlights, and they did. Horse the Band are a strange outfit, given to rhythmic fits and starts and odd keyboard sounds. They were breaking in a new drummer, who took a lot of teasing on his fourth show as a Horseman. Although I heard a couple "You fucking suck"s from the crowd, the band were well received, with comments from the lead singer like "This song's about stabbing your best friend with scissors in the eyeball" getting some laughs.

All That Remains augment their American deathcore with a lot of twin-guitar flash. My heart sank during the first song when the singer did the standard gruff verse/melodic chorus trick (repeated on many of their subsequent songs), but he did it without sapping any intensity, and the rest of the band ensured that the bottom didn't completely drop out of the songs when the transition occurred. Their set was gritty and impressive, and even had room for a solo spot for guitarist Oli Herbert.

The crowd was pumped for the headliners, with "DragonForce! DragonForce!" chants erupting every few minutes, as the temperature inside the venue rose to sweaty new highs. The lights went down and Slayer's "Reign In Blood" began playing at full PA volume as an onstage timer began counting down the four minutes to the gig's proper start. Unfortunately, that was the last good song I'd hear all night. It quickly became apparent that their high-speed barrage was on the sloppy side. Their drummer in particular had a hard time sustaining a blast beat for any length of time. By the fourth song, after a dozen whammy bar pulls, liberal exchanges of shredding, and heroically melodic choruses, their bag of tricks was just about empty. I even counted a couple truck driver's gear changes in there (a device I can't really fault any band for using, seeing as my favourite modern-day power metal album, Falconer's Grime vs. Grandeur is littered with them).

No denying that DF do their best to make sure everyone has a good time, and expend superhuman amounts of energy doing what they do. I had sweat running down my back just watching them in that giant sauna. I only wish the songs were as impressive as the band's energy and the audience's adulation. When the band left the stage to take a breather before the inevitable encore with inevitably another soundalike song, I took off to get some fresh air myself.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Chaosbeard joins the Difficult Music list o' links. Paul applies a musicianly POV to his metal discussion—check out his recent post on Opeth and "The Part" we all love so damn much from the song "Deliverance." Killer stuff.

Paul also plays in Toronto's Burn to Black, whose music was featured in Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (Sam Dunn, BtB's bassist, co-directed the film), and who are signed to Adrian Bromley's Urgent Music imprint. Their new album is out later this month. They mix thrash and death with a good dose of technicality—enough to keep things interesting, but not to the extent that song structure cannot be discerned and heads cannot bang.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I used to pick up four or five metal magazines every month, but now I'm down to two. Much as I don't like the idea that the Web is killing hard copy mags, it's made an impact in my case. Ever since I joined the Brave Board (an invaluable forum for gauging which new releases are bunk and which are worthy), my magazine intake has dropped. I quit buying Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles (after 10 years it had become repetitive, and there's a frustrating lack of editorial presence and any perspective apart from the immediate present) and Metal Maniacs (a mag I'll always respect for its convenience-store accessibility and grassroots charm, but it remains an eyesore), while still picking up Terrorizer and the new kid on the chopping block, Decibel.

Decibel's pretty hot right now, with a good bunch of writers (especially Nick Terry, Adrian Begrand, and U!'s own Kevi-Metal) and a snarky attitude that consistently cracks me up. Their "Hall of Fame" features are indispensible and they're not afraid to zoom in on some of the more unsavoury aspects of metal culture, such as fascism and homophobia, that other zines steer clear of. If I can fault the mag, it's for the reviews section, which is tainted by get-to-the-point smartassery along the lines of "this band has a funny name, so let me spend half the review constructing a half-baked joke around it."

Terrorizer isn't quite the trailblazing, tastemaking publication it was under Nick Terry's guidance, but it's hanging in there. It still looks great, and the scope of music they cover is just right for me. The "Extreme Music–No Boundaries" tagline is still in effect. Featuring Diamanda Galas or Michael Gira in the same context as any given evil Euro-metal act only makes sense. I notice they've started a Classic Albums feature in the same vein as Decibel's Hall of Fame. I don't mind, though; I can digest unlimited amounts of that sort of fodder.

Joe Stannard interviews Strapping Young Lad in the issue of Terrorizer I bought today. Devin Townsend went through a bad patch while doing press for the new album (The New Black), hinting that he was fed up with the band and the lifestyle, and that this might be the final SYL release. His misgivings have sure made for great copy:

"Everybody's got such a hard-on for touring, too. All these bands are like, 'You know what I'd really like to do, man? I'd really like to get into a 40-foot steel tube, with fifteen men, drink beer and watch The Simpsons! For ten months! That would be great. Then for the one hour a day we'll go up there and sweat and pretend that it matters to our life personally that we can pretend that we're rock stars.'"

Or how about:
"If I could pay my rent by making music for me, my friends and a couple of people that I know here and there, man, I would do it."

That strikes a chord.

Stannard also reviews the new Circulus album Clocks Are Like People, which reminded me how great their previous album was. Sure they're twee, but that's their reason to exist. Who else, beside Ritchie Blackmore, would even dare? Acid-folk wasn't the hit with the kids that it should have been in 1972 (Marc Bolan had to plug in and go glam to make a buck, remember), so it's up to Circulus to take it over the top in 2006. I'm pulling for them.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

I like to write about music that random visitors to the site might actually buy and hear for themselves, but I have to make an exception for this. Something really nice happened to me last week and writing something about it should help explain the idiot grin I’ve been sporting recently.

For the last two years a couple of my friends (Greg Pohl and Smash) have been secretly working on an album of cover songs... covers of my songs, as it turns out. Don’t ask me why; maybe they thought the music had some potential in the hands of competent musicians—I think my songs, with their basic musicianship, are sort of blank canvases. Greg and Smash solicited contributions from other friends in bands, assembled some odds & ends from old tapes, and ended up with 17 tracks worth of stuff. Smash even managed to trick me into giving him a new tune. I really had no idea until Smash sat me down at his place last Tuesday before the Tool/Isis show, poured us each a measure of The Balvenie (a recent gift from Willingdon Black), and fired up this disc.

For those who don’t know me, a bit of musical history. I’ve been playing drums since I was 12, though you wouldn’t know this if you saw or heard me. Good drummers are athletes, and I haven’t got a jock bone in my body. After playing in neighbourhood bands, always with my friend Willingdon Black, I realized that being a gigging musician was not for me, and I dropped out for the first time around age 22. I was into music more than ever, though, and needed an outlet more true to my introverted self. Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and Peter Hammill provided the songwriting lessons, pawnshops provided the guitars, my oft-vacationing parents supplied the recording space, and I got to work with my new Tascam 424. I was into the idea of creating artifacts—tapes with my own songs and packaging. Trade ‘em with your friends! I got the recording bug, and started living for those few minutes when I’d finish tracking a song, give it a quick mixdown, then blast the result through the living room. Sometimes I’d laugh my head off—I liked those songs the best. It’s like what Stuart Ross said about his writing: “…I’ll look at what I’ve written and say, ‘That’s some weird shit I write.’ And that’s what writing poetry is all about.” That’s what my songs are all about. They’re just me being weird, and having something to show for the insane amounts of leisure time with which I've been blessed during my lifetime.

Fortunately my friends are just as weird. Look at this track listing! The Shockker (ex-Roadbed, currently of punk kings Mongoose) gives “Fort” a good thrashing, coerces Mongoose frontman RC to help turn my song fragment “Alison Reynolds” into a breezy little pop tune, then crashes a 21 Tandem Repeats rehearsal, reforms Roadbed with Two-Sticks and Super Robertson, and blows through an insanely great version of “Grandad’s Volare,” which always needed a full-band treatment. There’s no better combo than Roadbed to do it. Greg Pohl takes control for a Red House Painterly treatment of “TDK SA90” and a sped-up Cure-like take on “Dead Meat Cindy,” a song I’d completely forgotten about. Willingdon Black as Snake Island Salvage faithfully recreates “No One New” with additional ultra-tasty guitar/bass/drums arrangements. Nice! As always, his guitar orchestrations are magnificent. Maia Azur really rocked me back on my heels with her smokin’ recasting of “Toyah” as a smouldering PJ Harvey-esque piano ballad. Finally, Tarkake, my Sunday afternoon band, working in secret with Smash and Sox’s girlfriend alongside, further mangle the already malformed party-pooper that is “Waiting for my Skeleton to Grow” with new lyrics to boot. Upsetting in the best possible sense.

These tunes are just the headliners. Interspersed are a seldom-heard bunch of vault-raiding live, rehearsal, and one-off lo-fi jam selections from the same cast in different configurations: The Beggars, Stoke, Logan Sox, In Spite, illuminaut v.x, Electric Religion, and Proctor, Mueller & Byrne. Smash also collected the extensive liner notes with contributions from WB, SR, Smash, Greg, and the mic-shy little belter fancylady. My friends are the best. Thanks to everyone for listening to my crap and for kicking my ass with your talent. Now I stagger off to find an ice pack for my swollen ego.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Just mulling over the relationship between music and comedy tonight as I try to write something spiritually wise about Brian Posehn's Live In: Nerd Rage album (which I like very much) for the mag.

As Dave Chappelle points out in Block Party, every comedian wants to be a musician, and every musician thinks he's funny.

Both professions demand that you be both ballsy and screwed-up if you're to survive and prosper. Both professions invite rejection and disdain from an undiscerning public on the way up the ladder of fame, and once success is achieved, losing your vital “edge” is inevitable as you start to depend on that undiscerning public to put bread on your table. In that sense, Metallica are the Robin Williams of heavy metal.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Full day of rock! That was last Thursday. I booked a half day off work so that Smash and I could meet up at 1:00 for Sounds of the Underground at the PNE Forum. Now, the Forum is a grim old barn with bloody awful sound, and this year's SOTU lineup was nowhere near as appealing as last year's excellent bill (incl. Opeth, Strapping Young Lad, High on Fire, and Clutch), but SOTU is a really well-run event that avoids tedium by keeping to a tight schedule with lots of bands playing short sets. As well, the day was abbreviated via the cancellation of Trivium and possibly The Chariot (who might have played in the first half hour that we missed).

Through the Eyes of the Dead were at it when we arrived. The sound was like a wind tunnel, but their drummer impressed by being audible and having some killer kick drum chops. Evergreen Terrace's music sounded very poppy in comparison. They were fronted by a funny kid who was all limbs and blond hair. I don't think they went over too well. We skipped out to get some lunch. Behemoth were on next, and they've got a killer act—black metal with spikes and corpsepaint and choreographed hair twirling. Even the drummer was windmilling away. The sound had improved by this time, so their musical might was in full force. The Black Dahlia Murder impressed as well, although their grindy material didn't translate very well in the big room. In a small club these guys would slay. No such problem with Terror, though. I've said before that I don't normally like this kind of bully rock hardcore, but Terror are so damn good at it that I can't help but embrace what they do. Given the festival circumstances, the usual Terror speeches about scene unity took a back seat to commands for the crowd to "get on top of each other" and similar gym class shenanigans. Still, they ruled! 3 Inches of Blood went down really well, but I've never cottoned on to them. Cannibal Corpse will forever be tainted by the time we endured them (and some racist asshole fans) at the Starfish Room many years ago. From a distance at the Forum, bludgeoning through a brief set, they were still just okay. With our plan to skip out on headliners As I Lay Dying in place, In Flames closed off the event for us. Unrestrained! magazine did a rather daft cover story a few issues back with the headline "Why does everyone hate In Flames?" It probably should have said "Why do jaded, elitist metal writers hate In Flames?" because everyone doesn't hate In Flames. A Forum full of people bloody loved them, especially those big hits with the big choruses and sequenced keyboard parts that the drummer has to play behind using a click track. Whatever. In Flames have the material and staging to headline big gigs like this. I don't think I've seen a better light show since Genesis on the "Mama" tour in '83, back when Vari-lites were the big new thing.

Smash and I split to go home for a couple hours, then we met up again to go to the Commodore for The Eagles of Death Metal and Peaches. I didn't know that they were alternating headline slots during the tour, so I was surprised that TEoDM were going strong when we entered the club. It was a love-fest between band and crowd. The whole gig was an unknown quantity for me, not being too familiar with either act. The Eagles of Death Metal played pop-punk with poise and panache, sort of like the Ramones crossed with Roxy Music. They dropped a couple covers into their set—"Brown Sugar" and "Beat on the Brat"—then for their grand finale, invited ladies up on stage with them until there was barely any room for the band to move. Crazy. Peaches had her work cut out to top that. She opened her set over by one of the side bars, her face shrouded by a glitzy silver cape with cowl. After the opening number she cut through the crowd to the stage for the rest of the show. There's something gormless and endearing about Peaches, even when she's stripped down to her skivvies and telling us to "fuck the pain away." Maybe it's the way she balances awkwardly atop the drum kit or attempts to strike a pose on top of the PA stack, or the fact that her band (which included JD Samson of Le Tigre) made heavy use of the keytar. Anyway, I should just leave it at that. Fancylady wanted to go but I couldn't score an extra ticket, and she responds with a dreadful silence whenever I try to mention anything about this show. God forbid she should read this.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I'm working on my Voivod story for Unrestrained! at the moment, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to post something I've had to cut from the piece.

I got to see Voivod five times between 1990 and their final tour in 2003, and each gig holds some special memories. I think my favourite Voivod moment, though, was at their last show in Vancouver, opening for Ozzy Osbourne and (cough) Finger Eleven. It was the first show I'd seen with their new bassist Jason Newsted and the returning Snake on vocals. Even though they were playing early to a partially filled arena, they came out and killed, playing "Voivod" as their first number (the best bands have a s/t theme song—Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motö Anyway, their playing that power-drill thrasher was the one of the most defiant, joyous things I've ever witnessed at a concert.

When I got the chance to talk to Newsted last March at the Katorz listening party, I had to ask him about that moment, and why they opened their set with that particular song. It turned out there were some very good practical reasons behind playing it.

"That’s how it was supposed to be," he said. "That’s how they did it for so long. It's just bringing it out—we’re here! That was one of the things as a band that always charmed me about them. No matter how many times you’d see them they’d either open with it or close with it. You were going to get crushed one way or the other. And especially in a situation on an Ozzfest or a thing where you’re playing with three bands like on that particular tour, you’ve got to put a song out there as the first four minutes for your mixing guy to make sure all the mikes are working and everything’s happening. We all sing on that song and all the instruments are full on and it’s got a change, the swells and everything, that gives the mixing guy a chance to go find the lower volumes, and then it crushes full on, as full volume as we’re going to go all night, so he gets to dial that in before the set starts. It’s such a racous type of song that it doesn’t really matter how shitty the sound system is, it’s still a fucking cool song because of how basic it is. So that’s really what it is. It can be in your face and raw as possible, and that’s even a better thing. Whereas if you come out with 'Astronomy Domine' [Voivod's minor-hit Pink Floyd cover] or one of your very delicate, very finessed-type songs it’ll take the mixing guy till the fourth song to get your shit together. So, that’s kind of a tactical manouver at the same time as it is this slap in the face."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I wanted to say farewell to this old chum—my faithful JVC CD player. The first album it played was U2's The Joshua Tree, and the last disc its laser caressed was Duke Ellington's Piano in the Foreground. The LED display burned out several years ago, but I only gave up on it after the tray stopped sliding out last week. This anomaly negatively affected the user experience.

So meet the new boss—our Panasonic DVD/CD player, so generously donated by Mel and Adam down the hall a couple Christmases ago. After a trip to The Source at Kingsgate Mall for extra cables (no, I don't think I will buy the extended three-year warranty) I was back enjoying the tinny, overcompressed sounds of the world's latest obsolete media format.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Six Organs of Admittance, July 30, The Media Club
Openers The Christa Min didn’t smile, acknowledge the audience or appear to enjoy their own music. I don’t have any patience for that whole “I’d rather be napping” schtick. Musically speaking, the sextet’s songs are okay, if a little predictable once you grasp the formula most of them follow. Their last song did have some drama and power. I remember it from the last time I saw them at Mesa Luna, and I have the main riff stuck in my head right now.

I’m new to Six Organs of Admittance—thanks to that relentless kid at Outer Space Gamelan and Unrestrained! Adam for alerting me. I’ve been enjoying their new album The Sun Awakens (Drag City) for a few weeks now. Singer/guitarist Ben Chasny, who has connections to Comets on Fire and Current 93, makes music that’s difficult to categorize. I’ll go with psychedelic folk and leave it at that. While their music is bleak and ethereal on record, it takes on a more explosive quality on stage. Chasny wields a potent Telecaster in front of drummer Noel Von Harmonson and third member Steve Quenell playing a mysterious tone generator (which on closer inspection comprised a vintage radio unit, some effects pedals and a small mixing board). They opened with a shorter yet more abstract version of “River of Transfiguration,” the side-long piece from The Sun Awakens. Chasny set off bursts of noise like Neil Young in his Arc days and the drummer sprayed snare shots and pounded a gong. We were getting into Wolf Eyes and SUNN O))) territory for a while, what with the drones and the random elements, until things settled down for the rest of the 45-minute set. I recognized “Bless Your Blood,” “Black Wall,” and a jam based around “Torn By Wolves” and ”Wolves’ Pup,” the two instrumental tracks that bookend side one of the album. The arrangements of the songs I knew were sufficiently different from the album that I imagine a Six Organs… live recording would be well worth hearing. The main thing is, the trio were right into it through the whole show, with Chasny lurching around the stage, conducting the band by swinging his guitar neck around, and the other two responding in kind. That's all I ask for—musicianship and passion.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

British MPs reveal favourite albums in today's Guardian which they're outed as a pretty righteous crop of politicos. Despite attempts like that sorry list of top conservative rock songs, true rock does not observe party lines. I couldn't help noticing, though, that the sickos who namechecked Tarkus and Atom Heart Mother were on the Labour side of the fence. Comrades in prog, unite.

I doubt a survey of Canadian MPs would produce such an interesting list, although I'm sure the Bloc MPs would do themselves proud.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I continue to labour for the Voivod cause. Tonight I watched a chunk of Rock Pig: Karaoke, withstanding Nirvana cover versions (would everyone leave poor headless Kurt alone?) and the sight of Dave Navarro's ambisexual cyborg face to check up on our lad Jason. There he was, loud 'n' proud in a Voivod shirt (not as shown left) just as he promised in Montreal back in March. So what if he was playing "White Rabbit" instead of "Black City"? He was logging some serious screen time in that thing.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Writing’s become really hard again. All I do is worry and procrastinate. When I finally sit down I end up stringing clichés together. This scares me, because I have a buttload of writing to do over the next few weeks.

NoMeansNo played the Vancouver Int’l Jazz Fest on June 29. Trust me to attend probably the least jazz-like gig of the entire festival. Though it was a satisfying combination of bands, none of them swung particularly hard. Italian trio Zu were already playing when we walked into the Commodore. The guy on baritone sax wore a Slayer Reign in Blood shirt, which indicated what kind of destructive sensibility they wielded—relentless bass/drums/sax chaos in the style of Ruins. Very enjoyable, especially up close, where you could feel and see the full force of their ragged-edge musicianship. Smash was impressed by the bassist’s Traynor Monoblock, which was a variant he hadn’t seen often.

Norway’s Wibutee were a damn sight more chilled-out; equipped with a brace of iBooks along with standard rock band instrumentation. They reminded me of Radiohead or Sigur Ros with flute and saxophone leads—kind of like a post-millennium Weather Report, to introduce some kind of jazz touchstone. Definitely a tight outfit, though their propensity to play against sequenced backing tracks quashed any chance of them actually catching fire. Thanks to the Norwegian government for bringing them out here!

Time for Nomeansno. “I guess it’s now official: we’re jazz-punk,” Rob Wright said before they’d played a note. In true sketchy punk rock fashion, Tom Holliston's guitar rig immediately died and the Wright brothers had to struggle through most of the first song as a duo. There were rumours that this would be the last-ever NMN show. This is silly talk, as their website confirms:

"On June 29th, 2006, NoMeansNo will be playing their final show ever at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, Washington British Columbia. The quartet, made up of Rob Wright on drums, John Wright on guitar, and Ernie Hawkins on bass and vocals, have felt that after twenty-seven albums and fourteen years of existence, the time has come to announce their farewell to the music world with one final two hour bash, where they will play their entire musical back catalogue, including hits from their masterpiece Something Better Change, from 2003. The performance will include appearances from past, present and future NoMeansNo members, such as Jello Biafra, Greg Ginn, Robo and Chavo. Ticket prices have jumped from $19.50 to $99.50, as the band belatedly realized this is the very last chance they'll have to exploit their fanbase for beer money and the rider demanding a package of trail mix and two bottles of Old Crow bourbon. The band wishes to express their deepest appreciation for the last twenty-seven years of making music before their retirement from the music industry forever on June 29th.

Be sure to see the band in Tofino on June 30th, Lund on July 1st and Denman Island on July 2nd."

No, NoMeansNo will outlast us all. They will be teaming up with the cockroaches to release split 7-inches after Armageddon.

I’m buggered if I can remember much of the set list—with 20+ years’ worth of songs to pick from, plenty of hoary old classics got an airing. Now that I think about it, they did play “The Tower,” “No Fucking” (which dates way back to the Mama tape), and “Rags and Bones,” as well as some new songs from All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt (out August 22, though they did toss a few advance copies into the crowd). For an encore, they did their gritty version of "Bitches Brew," with the sax guy from Zu supplying some additional parping.

I catch myself taking music for granted way too often. The fact that NoMeansNo are one of my favourite bands and they're local means I haven't caught every show they've performed in Vancouver recently, including a gig about three blocks away from my place the week before the Jazz Fest gig. Pure foolishness. It was sure good to check in with them again at the Commodore.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Just writing from the spanking-new and airy Grimsby Public Library. I'm watching a huge summer thunderstorm through the computer area's huge floor-to-ceiling windows. We don't get weather like this at home. I've got 27 minutes left on this internet session, so I hope the rain eases up before I have to head out to the car. I'm here for a few days to help fancylady with a family emergency. The worst of that particular storm is over, but there's still a lot of work to do at her dad's house. Sit tight; the music will be back soon.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I felt like having a whinge about the demise of Top of the Pops, but I'd just be putting on airs. I've only ever seen one episode in my life—this one [YouTube], which tweaked my 11-year-old mind, no doubt. I can't claim that I grew up with it. Still, its cancellation is a sign of something else, something definitely worth a whinge.

It's a given that fewer people care about music anymore. Music is just data, stripped of mystique, to be copied, experienced, and deleted. Anyone who does give a damn what goes in their ears can pursue their interests to the narrowest of any possible niche. A Slipknot fan of average intelligence and resources can work backwards through Slayer, Maiden, and Sabbath and back again through The Dillinger Escape Plan, Melt Banana, SUNN O))) and, having plowed through history and dismissed everything as "old hat," end up amassing an exhaustive collection of Sri Lankan Tamilcore jazz-grind...all in a couple of months. The notion of a single forum for exposing all "pop" music, such as TOTP, is outdated. Not even a whole television channel presenting the breadth of popular music can keep viewers. MuchMusic and MTV mainly air reality shows, because we're all celebrities now. Everyone's a pop star, and we can all buy products that the stars enjoy and join their world of make believe.

People are more interested in gadgetry these days. The corporations have better control over that stuff. People can't just make their own iPods or flatscreen TVs the same way they can rip and burn the new Keane CD. Hardware has cachet. That's why A&B Sound downtown has cleared out all the music from their main floor and replaced it with flash gear for the home. If you're after that new Tool album with the 3D glasses (can't download those!), you'll have to wade through the TVs and digital cameras, round the corner, and take the escalator upstairs. That's where you'll find the art...out of sight, out of mind.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Status Quo Beat Me Up!
On Coronation Street last Sunday, Chesney came running up to Les: "Les, it's the Quo!" Les's favourite band were a mere few doors down, quaffing pints in the Rovers (under the eye of their road manager Ralph Brown, nearly reprising his role as Danny in Withnail & I). Les wasn't having any of it. He wouldn't believe it even when Chesney took off with Les's jean jacket and returned it marked with Francis Rossi's and Rick Parfitt's autographs. Eventually Les got with the plot—too late—as the band got in their van to leave. Our ginger-haired hero gathered up his Status Quo LPs and took chase, catching up and yelling at them through the van window. He couldn't keep up, though, and the van rounded the corner and disappeared...only to circle the block and stop in front of Les. His elation at seeing his heroes return was short-lived, as Rossi and Parfitt jumped out of the van and beat the snot out their biggest fan. Seems that sometime in the '80s, Les jumped on stage at a Quo gig and accosted Rossi with enough gusto to put the guitarist in a permanent neck brace. "This is for 20 years of pain!" Rossi yelled, fist connecting with Les's face.

So yeah—best episode of Coronation Street ever.

When I'd recovered sufficiently I took a walk up to Neptoon Records to flip through their bargain bin. They've always got something worth having for $2.00. I found a copy of On the Level, an album that got a lot of screen time that morning, sitting atop Les's pile of vinyl. And it's great. You can't not like Status Quo. They're friendlier than Nazareth, not as self-obsessed and macho as Thin Lizzy while rocking just as hard as either. On the Level has some real stompers, like "Little Lady," "Down Down" (#1 in the UK), and a roaring version of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny." Full-tilt Brit-boogie at its finest.

The aftermath of the Les-battering incident saw Les and Cilla plotting to sue the band for assault and injury, so I'm predicting more Quo on Corrie very soon, probably in some kind of settlement scenario where the band play a free gig and plug their new greatest hits collection. Wahey!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Today The Guardian pokes at death metal's purulent underbelly and discovers an artform that both sexes can enjoy. It's true—everyone looks good in a Dying Fetus shirt.

It got me thinking that it's been a while since I was blown away by an unadulterated death metal album. I wanted to like the new Decapitated record, but the constant ultra-triggered double kick drums pretty much ruined it for me. Augury's Concealed really impressed me, although I haven't had many opportunities to spin it since picking it up at their show a couple months ago. Before that I'd have to go back to last year and Bolt Thrower's magnificently crustified comeback Those Once Loyal and the mindblowing Atheist reissues for some old-school death metal satisfaction.

Anyone got any new-school recommendations that are gonna make me forget about Pierced From Within or Here in After?

Monday, June 12, 2006

So it seems that Norway's Borknagar, cosmic black metallers of some renown, have an acoustic album in the works. Sounds like a good idea to me, and I'm looking forward to hearing their swirling compositions presented in a less bombastic format. Besides, their last couple releases, Empiricism and Epic, were quite samey, and giving their sound an experimental overhaul could be exactly what they need.

Going acoustic sometimes seems like a desperate gambit for a creatively spent band, but I'm sure Borknagar aren't aiming to simply remake some "hits," giving them a radio-friendly sheen for the 18-to-35 drivetime audience. The few one-off "major departure" releases from their heavy metal peers have been credible. I thought Opeth's toned-down prog move, Damnation, was a spectacular success, while Green Carnation's The Acoustic Verses from earlier this year was a very enjoyable release.

Green Carnation are probably best known for their 60-minute concept song/album, Light of Day, Day of Darkness, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production that hit a number of a moods while never losing its flow or sounding anything less than grandiose. After that album, they retreated to shorter, more rocking material on Blessing In Disguise and The Quiet Offspring, before unplugging for their latest album, a project to celebrate Green Carnation's 15th year of existence. I talked to guitarist Tchort (who's been involved with Emperor, Carpathian Forest, and the ultra-heavy Blood Red Throne over the years) for Unrestrained! #30. Here's some stuff I had to whittle out of the finished article.

Do you think you'll perform any of these songs from The Acoustic Verses in electric versions? Do you think they'll change in the coming years?

I think Kjetil [Nordhus, vocals] mentioned that his song "Maybe?" was a song he originally wrote that for the full band, but then he made a different version for this album. So that one maybe will be presented later on as a full band version. But I can easily see us doing these songs during a full band live set, maybe in the middle of the set, take everything down and play some acoustic songs before continuing. We’ve been thinking a lot about how to do this in the future because we started doing a lot of acoustic shows as well. We did a couple acoustic shows in Finland with really, really good response as well. A lot of the other material like Blessing in Disguise and also stuff from The Quiet Offspring works really well in acoustic form. So it’s possible to do both separate, but it’s also possible for us to do it combined. You never know.

Do you still think about The Quiet Offspring? Will you be still going on the road to promote it?

We do play a lot from The Quiet Offspring, and we never played as many shows as we do right now. We never set up a tour for The Quiet Offspring. We did a European tour for Blessing in Disguise and that was the first tour we ever did. We were supposed to do a European tour in January and early February, but it seems our keyboard player has double booked himself with another band. I think it’s going to be split up to do long weekend shows in different countries. We do promote both The Quiet Offspring and the EP [The Burden is Mine...Alone]and the new album in every forthcoming show. We have four albums and a back catalogue that we need to promote. For example, Light of Day, Day of Darkness, people don’t want to hear a small portion of it, they want to hear the whole thing and then you end up having a three-hour setlist. That’s not always easy to work out either, so...

That's almost a special event kind of thing, isn't it?

It is. It requires a lot of equipment and so on and it’s always a big problem to bring on flights. The keyboard for this Canadian trip [to Toronto's Day of the Equinox Festival last October, where they played the entire Light of Day...] weighed 60 kilos that was 70% more than the maximum weight that Air Canada would allow, and that was just for one piece. So it was a big problem fighting at the airport just to bring it into Canada or get it out of Norway and bring it back again.

This is the first album you’ve done with your new production company, Sublife Productions. Why did you form Sublife?

Because I think that I will have different goals within the next few years. In previous years it’s been touring especially with Carpathian Forest, whom I also play with, and then there’s Blood Red Throne, whom I also tour with, and then there’s Green Carnation, whom I also tour with. I have a son at home and it’s not that easy anymore to go on the road and have 200 travel days a year, so basically I’m trying to see a little ahead, and I see myself cutting down on touring. I need to do something at home that still can be possible to combine with touring, and having a regular job doesn’t let you combine that. So I decided to form this company together with Kjetil our vocalist and basically do what I’ve been doing for the last five years, and that’s working as a booking agent/management/recording label for my other bands. Kjetil's also in Trail of Tears and another band called Chain Collector. So it’s basically doing the same thing we’ve been doing these past years but now under a specific name and just making it an official company.

Is it a way of controlling your career instead of leaving it in other people's hands?

Not really, because I don’t have problems…I have been working with a lot of great labels like The End Records, so I don’t have any problems leaving some of that responsibility with others. But it’s basically just having something to go back to when you don’t go on the road as much as you used to.

What other kinds of acts are you interested in working with and possibly signing?

We decided to go with a very local aim, meaning that we feel that bands from our area [Kristiansand] have great quality and a lot of potential, but it’s usually bands from Bergen or Oslo that people abroad know about. All the bands that you hear about in foreign magazines are Oslo bands or sometimes Bergen-located bands, but we feel that the bands where we come from have just as much potential and maybe even a greater quality to them, and we decided to focus on our own bands and tried to push some of the local bands. So you’ll be hearing from some local bands in the future and I think they have a great potential to get somewhere, of course depending a lot on the work that we do.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I had planned to go see Nomeansno and Removal on Saturday night, but I learned once again that there's a crucial difference between "have plans" and "have tickets." The show had sold out by the time I tried to score some on Saturday morning. Oh well. I made the rounds of the stores downtown and bought the new Celtic Frost album, along with PJ Harvey's Please Leave Quietly DVD.

With the show a no-go, I stayed in and watched Blue Velvet for the first time in years. David Lynch loves music and odd sounds in general, which is one of the reasons I like his movies. From a musical angle, Blue Velvet's an important movie because it was the first time Lynch worked with Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise (who got involved because Lynch wanted a song with a similar atmosphere to This Mortal Coil's "Song to the Siren," to which he couldn't get the rights).

It's cool how he'll bring a film to a halt so one of the characters can sing an entire song. Blue Velvet seems almost entirely driven by music. Isabella Rosellini sings the title track and Dean Stockwell lip-synchs "In Dreams". In Wild at Heart, Nicholas Cage/Sailor hijacks a Powermad gig to croon "Love Me" for Laura Dern. Eraserhead has "Heaven (the Lady in the Radiator song)" and Twin Peaks has my all-time favourite Lynch musical moment—I think I've written about it here before—James, Maddy, and Donna's home-fi session in episode 9.

Watching that Wild at Heart scene with Powermad again, it's funny to notice that Sailor's Elvis-style martial arts dancefloor moves match exactly what I've seen in the pit at all-ages hardcore shows over the last few years.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

If you don't like puppets and puppetry, you might be dead inside. Come on—the Muppets? Thunderbirds? Casey and Finnegan? Meet the Feebles? There's even a Mule puppet, a sock augmented with frizzy hair and a miniature jeansuit that Super Robertson made for skits at the Supper Show. When it's off-duty, resting at home, Super's daughter likes to gnaw on its eyes, so it's clear I'm a hit with the kids.

A few weeks ago, fancylady came back from Happy Bats with this movie called Strings. I think we intended to get Capote or Walk the Line, but Truman and Johnny would have to wait. There were puppets to watch. Above all else, Strings is beautiful to look at. The sets are unbelievable, and the puppets are incredibly expressive, especially considering their faces are static except for moving eyelids. They have a universal, timeless quality. The storyline is serviceable, with the most inspired element being the self-awareness of the puppets. They know they are animated by strings, and this is the foundation of their spirituality/mythology. The movie also carries a nice message about the interconnectedness of all living things, which, set against the plot's wartime backdrop, says a lot about the times we're a-livin' in. Insert your allegorical interpretation here.

In November 1969, puppets walked on the moon...sort of. I've been reading Destination Moon—The Apollo Missions in the Astronauts' Own Words, a book I got from the bargain table at Crapters a couple weeks ago. During their first EVA, the Apollo 12 astronauts were supposed to set up a fancy new colour TV camera. Unfortunately it caught a bright reflection off the Lunar Module (or directly from the sun, by some accounts), and burned out while Alan Bean was setting it up. With no pictures available, the TV networks rushed to find other visuals to convey the astronauts' activities on the lunar surface. According to the book, NBC "had contracted a puppeteer to create Apollo marionettes for simulations. They had a small lunar surface mockup, and soon two tiny puppets, strings clearly visible, were bouncing their way across the lunar surface." They say if you can remember the '60s you weren't really there...but who could ever forget that?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

This week Metal: A Headbanger's Journey came out on DVD after a well-received theatrical run. I enjoyed this movie immensely, and I interviewed producer/director/narrator Sam Dunn for Unrestrained! Here's some material I had to cut from the article. I asked Dunn about his experience in Norway, where he filmed a segment on arson and murder-riddled Norwegian black metal scene in the early '90s, and about the fact that another film company has plans to film a docu-drama feature about those events. While the fact that Adam Parfrey (of Feral House Press, publishers of Lords of Chaos, about the rise of the satanic black metal underground) is on board as screenwriter lends some credibility to the project, metal fans will regard the movie with a lot of suspicions and cynicism.

I understand they’re filming sort of a docu-drama about the events in Norway. What do you think about that?

DUNN: "Well, I have mixed feelings about how it's going to portray what happened. I don’t know if it’s going to be purposely set in Norway, or how much they’re going to base it on real events. Who knows? We’ll see. I think it was a captivating story in a lot of ways. It’s hard for a lot of people to believe that it happened. That’s why we felt we needed to do this extra documentary [a DVD bonus segment exclusively about Norwegian black metal]. There was so much more to say than what we could say in the film. It is a part of the history of metal and certainly the anti-Christian sentiment in metal was something we wanted to cover. If we spent more than 10 or 15 minutes in Norway [in the movie proper], it would feel a little bit indulgent or unbalanced. As far as the feature film goes, we’ll see what happens. Maybe the metal community will be up in arms about it. That wouldn’t totally surprise me."

Certainly leading up to it there’s going to be a lot of cynicism.

"Absolutely, and you know what? We experienced the same thing with our film, and we still do. When we post something about the film on Blabbermouth we tend to get responses like, 'Oh my god, it’s got Slipknot and Rob Zombie in it,' and calling me a sellout. It’s amazing. You get that regardless. But thankfully people who have seen the film are chiming in and saying, 'Well, no. You know what? This film is really interesting and it’s respectful and it captures the history of this music' and stuff like that. So thank god some people are coming to our defence. (laughs)"

People are just very protective of their scene, I think.

"I think metalheads are inherently skeptical and fickle. It’s kind of part of the culture because it’s such a part of people’s identity and a part of their lives. I mean, all subcultures are kind of like that, right? It’s like a survival instinct that people have. The only way to keep it your own is to protect its boundaries, you know? (laughs)"

So now that you’ve sampled a few different lives—you’ve got your band [Burn to Black], you’re a filmmaker, you’re an anthropologist—what’s the closest thing to your heart?

"I think that I’m obsessively eclectic, so I want it all. I’m a megalomaniac in that sense. For me, I guess it's two things: we do plan to make a second film about metal that’s going to be looking at the globalization of metal and focusing on how metal has spread to very diverse countries and looking at how different religions and different cultures are affecting the music and vice versa—what this music means and how it is impacting kids in very different environments. Indonesia, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, these kinds of countries are very diverse but all have very vibrant or budding metal scenes. I’m certainly interested in doing that, so for now another documentary on metal certainly piques my interest. For the long term I am interested in documentary filmmaking and I would like to pursue it, but I’m also applying to do my PhD starting in September. The idea is to tie that in with the next film, actually. We did feel that with Headbanger’s Journey we really only scratched the surface in terms of all the different places where metal thrives. We only went to Europe and North America, so we feel that we may have been complicit somewhat in painting the picture of metal as being a predominantly white Western phenomenon, whereas in fact it’s much broader than that. I’m really just fascinated in exploring what this music means to kids. I think it has a much more explicitly political slant in many of these countries because many of them are living in very repressive political systems and that kind of thing. Sepultura, for example, is the best known example of that."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Right after I wrapped up work on Unrestrained! I took off to Mayne Island with fancylady for a week. We called it a "working holiday," but our main aim was just to soak up the quiet, sleep in the dark (no streetlights outside our window), and get out for walks. We did take a few hours each day to work on our separate projects—fancy on her book and me on some music.

Smash kindly leant me his Zoom PS-02 "Palmtop Studio," which is basically a three-track recorder with built-in drum-and-chord sequencer. Very cool little device, maybe not ideally suited to the Mule method of recording, but perfect for capturing ideas quickly and with great scope for tweaking sounds with its 60 user-adjustable presets. When I had a firm idea of a given song's structure, I could assemble a decent demo in no time at all. When I only had a single riff to explore and build on, it lacked a few features I needed. For example, when punching in to fix a decent but flawed take, you can only monitor the track that you're punching in on and whatever drum/chord pattern you've programmed. When the piece I was recording had no drum/chord backing, I got completely lost whenever I had to punch in on a track (I learned that setting up a basic metronome track was a good idea for everything I recorded, even if there would be no rhythm track in the final mix.)

I came home with four or five short pieces finished. Because the PS-02 also appears to lack a fast forward function, it helped to keep those songs brief. I was constantly returning to the start when recording a new track, adjusting the drum/chord backing, or setting a punch-in point.

I'm close to having a new Mule album assembled, but I've been saying that for about three years now. I'm stuck with not having any lyrics/vocals for several songs that need them. Lyrics are a big problem for me since I abandoned the whole self-deprecating/low self-esteem B.S. I ran into the ground during my more productive recording years. Sometimes I'd rather just record instrumentals, but I feel that that's a copout too. I'm getting tired of the riff sandwich approach. Where's the craft in that? I get a lot of satisfaction out of making up vocal melody lines; I just wish I had something to say.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Home (The End)
It doesn’t start well. The sultry come-hither vocal melody that anchors “Shortest Day” contains more than a dash of saccharine, making one wonder if The Gathering have taken their sound too far into the realm of Cranberries-flavoured commercial pop. Happily, it’s a false alarm, as the band expertly steers the rest of the album through a brace of stellar songs interspersed with some interesting diversions. The sly melody and familiar chorus-time surge of “In Between” signal that all is well—if not better than ever—with The Gathering. By the third track, “Alone,” we hear the full potential of the band’s current direction unleashed—fluid, ingeniously arranged, and even a little menacing. Especially impressive is how they both employ and subvert verse/chorus/verse conventions by creating constant, nearly imperceptible momentum during the course of a song. The album’s highlight arrives with the fourth track, “Waking Hour,” itself highlighted by Anneke’s spine-tingling mid-song vocal excursion against a spare piano backdrop. Her voice is in full flight here, singing with a grace and control only hinted at when she belted out the tunes on Mandylion over ten years ago. The album gradually settles down via the abstract deep-space strangeness of “Fatigue,” the downcast beauty of “A Noise Severe,” and the tender “Forgotten,” only to rise to another peak with the title track, which strings the listener along with some compelling atmospheric guitar work before resolving itself in yet another standout chorus. Having lost track of The Gathering since 2000’s if_then_else, it’s great to rediscover the band working in such a confident, comfortable way. Home is the perfect place for them to be right now.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Unrestrained! has taken over my life right now. I'll come up for air and post more often when I'm done in a couple weeks.

This post starts with The Office, the American version of which has won me over. It's about the only U.S. network TV series with interesting-looking people on it. Steve Carell is fantastic as Michael Scott, a walking, talking hangnail of a human. I find the series doesn't centre on his constant humiliation the way the British series did, probably because that sort of humour would be hard to sustain (and tolerate) over 20-plus episodes a season or however many they're producing. The utter destruction visited upon David Brent (Scott's British counterpart) just wouldn't work over a long U.S. network season.

The American series also lacks the poetry of Gervais & Merchant's version. I'm thinking specifically of John Betjeman's "Slough" and how it informed every moment of the original 12 episodes of The Office. I need to read more of his work.

I first saw Betjeman's name mentioned in some Charisma Records "historical notes" inside my copy of Genesis's Nursery Cryme. Charisma founder Tony Stratton-Smith (RIP) writes, "We maintained too, a certain eccentricity: the comic invention of Monty Python (like Genssis, with Charisma for almost a decade) was laid beside the quintessentially english recordings of Sir John Betjeman..." Aha.

I've never actually seen a John Betjeman record—I'm sure they were deleted pretty quickly if they reached these shores at all—but I'm on the lookout now. According to this article in The Guardian, Sir John's hipper than ever. Anyone who treated guests to Scotch and shortbread—never mind wrote something scathing as "Slough" and was labelmates with Peter Hammill—is all right by me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I watched American Idol for the first time last week. Sure, this show embodies evil in popular culture, and its producers, contestants, and audience should be castigated as the worshippers of Mammon that they are. But last week's episode was a salute to Queen, with the would-be Idols plundering the golden catalogue of Mercury/May/Deacon/Taylor for songs to massacre. I couldn’t miss that car wreck, could I?

The guy who sang a country-rock tainted version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” got voted off the island after the show. Good call, America.

Actually, all last week was Queen Week, with the Rodgers/May/Taylor "Queen Company" rock revue finishing their tour here in Vancouver. I didn't go, but I'm sure everyone had a good time. I also just picked up a Classic Albums DVD about the making of A Night at the Opera, an album that, when I was 12 or 13, I played until the vinyl was worn as thin as Bohemian Rhapsody's master tape. Because I've internalized that LP and taken those songs for granted for so long, the show contained some revelations. I'd never realized that "Sweet Lady" is in 3/4 time until Brian May demonstrated the riff in one of the DVD extras—the drums play it completely straight and mask the song's time signature. Clever. And May's explanation of "'39" really knocked me for a loop. He says it's about interplanetary time travellers, not emigrants from Europe going to the New World as I had always assumed. Guess my 12-year-old powers of interpretation were off, or I thought Rush had cornered the market on space opera stuff and didn't bother reading any of Queen's lyrics in the same light. Brian May, you are an extraordinary nerd and I salute you.

I haven't had cable for the past four years, so I've missed out on a lot of these Classic Albums shows. I don't mind being out of the loop too much. If I want to find out what's going on in mainstream culture, free TV can always offer me something, whether I want it or not. Locally, there's the Kool Countdown, a music video hit-parade roundup that fancylady and I end up watching with disturbing frequency on Thursday evenings. I think we can't look away for two reasons. 1) The show is based in Victoria, so it has that Island television low-budget CRTC-mandated local programming feel to it, as the host, the Garofalo-like Robin Farrell, touts whatever acts are playing the Save-On Foods Memorial Centre (Rob Thomas is coming!) between Madonna and James Blunt vids, and 2) Robin herself has a witty persona, enhanced by our suspicion that she hates all the music she presents on the show.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

This one's for Super Robertson—Robert Wyatt singing "I'm a Believer" on Top of the Pops, a performance the BBC didn't air at the time (1974) because the sight of a paraplegic singing on television might have upset sensitive viewers...or something. Too bad about the prat doing the voiceover at the end. Seeing Wyatt blithely singing away while teenagers dance (not to mention Nick Mason on drums) more than makes up for it. Inspiring!

I first heard Wyatt's take on Neil Diamond's Monkees hit last year, after buying Solar Flares Burn For You, an odds and sods collection of Robert Wyatt material on Cuneiform Records. The album comprises two BBC Radio sessions from 1972 and 1974, a soundtrack for a short film (the title track), and three home recordings from 2002–2003, just to stop things from getting too nostalgic. The 1974 session is brilliant—Wyatt alone at a piano playing "Alifib" (shattering), and a more fleshed-out version of "Sea Song" from Rock Bottom, along with "Soup Song" and "I'm a Believer." The rest of the album is pretty inconsistent, from the abstract sounds of the title track to the silly "We Got an Arts Council Grant," to the cloying-yet-heartfelt "Little Child" (a song sung by Wyatt's childhood hero Danny Kaye), to the groovy loop-based jam "Twas Brillig" from 2002–2003. While they're inconsistent in terms of flowing together as a coherent album, each track is as defiantly eccentric and unique as its creator.

My Sunday rhythm-section teammate Christian Scum lent me a few Mojo mags last weekend, including the November 2005 issue which features a lengthy Wyatt interview. The inspiring quotes fly thick and fast: "I do have an intense greediness for stimuli. I get bored quickly. But I'm really scared of breaking the law. Pathetic, isn't it?" Or "I'd love to be a perfectionist. I always think I am until I hear the results, then I realise I'm not."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Once again, I hitch myself to Doomed to Rock's coat-tails and enter the realm of list making. Here are some of the best, most important gigs of my life.

Rush, Pacific Coliseum 1980
Fourteen-year-old me at my first concert, with Rush on the Permanent Waves tour. A shattering, otherworldly experience; the first collision between my limited self-perception and an existence more exotic, extreme, and intense than I could ever imagine for myself. I went home with my tour programme, ringing ears, and my rugby shirt reeking of dope and cigarette smoke. Again! Again!

Voivod, Soundgarden, Prong at the Commodore Ballroom, 1990
I can’t overemphasize the importance of this gig in my life. Not only were the bands either at their peak (Voivod) or ascendant and eager to slay (Soundgarden & Prong), but virtually all my present-day musical friends and collaborators were at this show. If it wasn’t for the bonding power of Voivod, my life would be a boring, drab thing at the moment.

Monster Magnet at the New York Theatre, 1992
I remember being really distracted the day of this show. I’d completely forgotten about it until my friend JR called, ready to pick me up. I think the lack of anticipation left me really vulnerable to Monster Magnet’s swirling space-rock assault that evening. The whole history of ROCK unfurled before me. Was it 1967? ’72? ’92? It could have been any era. Sandwiched between Paw and Raging Slab, they stole the show and prompted a personal epiphany regarding rock as a cerebral vs. visceral experience. An evening of flying hair, sweat and fists (none of which were mine).

Jesus and Mary Chain, UBC Thunderbird Stadium, Lollapalooza 1992
I remember a damp summer’s afternoon, with steam rising from the pit, and having pretty low expectations for these irascible Scots. But they came on and I was blown away by the strength and depth of their songs and their hollow-body guitars-and-shades look—unapproachably and unattainably cool. I knew them to be arrogant bastards, and based on this performance, they had every right to be.

Neurosis at the Town Pump, 1996
Man, I’ve never been so glad to be completely sober. My friend Smash and I bought tickets at the door and walked in blind, going on hearsay that Neurosis put on a good live show. Very true, as it turned out. Neurosis aren’t a rock band, they’re sensory overload, adding films, slides, and tribal drumming to their crusty/crushing avant-rock. Unbelievable that they could summon the will to pull something like that off every night on tour.

Sacramentary Abolishment in Edmonton, 1997
Hyped up by the unfathomable rage and fury of S.A.’s River of Corticone album, Smash and I flew out to Edmonton for this Halloween show that also marked the release of S.A.’s The Distracting Stone CD (their last before drummer Paulus left and the remainder of the band formed Axis of Advance). From the “Faces of Death” type video showing on the club’s TV monitors to the prospect of witnessing S.A. in the flesh, this was one of the more terrifying experiences of my life at that point, replaced in short order by the moment S.A. themselves took the stage and launched into a full set of Apocalyptic Nuclear Hate-filled Blackness.

Sonic Youth at the Vogue, 2002
A seated venue with great sound, a near-perfect setlist, and the best Sonic Youth gig I’ve ever seen. They weren’t out to stir shit up; they weren’t experimenting with new material; they weren’t limited by being part of a larger bill or festival. This was their night to be the best band in the world. I think they played every song off Murray Street. At a lot of gigs, you kind of just tolerate the songs from the new album; this was the kind of show where the new stuff sounded instantly classic.

Opeth at the Commodore, 2005
I’ve already posted a review of this show, so you might want to track that down. Suffice to say that after seeing two truncated Opeth gigs in Vancouver (one where their drummer bailed on them and one at the Sounds of the Underground Fest), a full-length Opeth show was a satisfying, heavy experience.

Honourable mentions: All Iron Maiden gigs, especially Scorpions/Maiden/Girlschool (Number of the Beast tour, 1982) and Maiden/Saxon/Fastway (Piece of Mind tour, 1983), long-gone local band Red Sugar, Morbid Angel, all International Guitar Nights, Between the Buried and Me, Removal, pre-Nevermind Nirvana, and the Melvins.