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.