Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I just got back from the Cafe Montmartre and the launch party for subTerrain magazine #46 (the "Bad Jobs" issue). All three winners of the Lush Triumphant contest were there to read. John Vigna read a chunk from his intense short story, "Hops," poetry winner Bill Pollett read a quick poem, and Michael Hall brought the house down with his non-fiction piece "Bukowski My Boilermaker."

Number 46 is sub-T's first full-colour issue, by the way, and it's a beaut.

Fancylady did her usual belting job as emcee and was even interviewed by Malcolm Parry from The Sun afterwards. I noticed Parry wasn't toting his camera and step-stool this evening, so don't look for any cleavage shots in the paper tomorrow.

To see and hear Fancylady in her true element, check out the Main Street Literary Tour Thursday evening as part of BC Book and Magazine Week.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Earth—Hibernaculum (Southern Lord)
Earth hit upon something brilliant with their last release, Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, on which Dylan Carlson recast his drone/ambient metal ethic in cleanly plucked Telecaster tones. The resulting music was spare and ominous, a compelling soundtrack for staring out the window and watching the clouds roll in. This EP applies the Hex method to three songs from the Earth back catalogue, along with the 16-minute “A Plague of Angels” that saw release as half a split 12-inch with drone disciples SUNN O))). “Ouroboros Is Broken” (reworked from debut album Extra-Capsular Extraction) lumbers forth with a single extended riff that stands up well over 8 minutes of repetition. Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davies create the track’s framework while Steve Moore, Don McGreevy and Greg Anderson of SUNN O))) drape various colours and embellishments across it, using tones from Hammond B3, trombone, bass and synth. In its original context on Pentastar: In the Style of Demons (1996), I always thought that “Coda Maestoso In F (Flat) Minor” sounded like the end section of Yes’s “Starship Troopers.” The Hiberculanum version is slowed down and twanged up as to be nearly unrecognizable. This track is another exercise in single-riff dynamics with an extremely heavy payoff by the end. “Miami Morning Coming Down” is a piano-led piece incorporating some delicate fuzz guitar that builds into something jazzy and hypnotic. Possibly the least threatening (yet most intriguing) track on the EP, its placid demeanour is a tour de force of complementary tonal placement. The final track, “A Plague of Angels,” is the sort of Wild West death trip familiar to anyone who’s already basked in Hex’s dustbowl, making for a useful coda to that album.

Hiberculanum also contains a DVD with a documentary by Seldon Hunt entitled Within the Drone. The 50-minute film follows Earth on tour across Europe, with snippets of live performance (no complete songs, but enough to get a good feel for what they do on stage) and interview segments in which Carlson explains his fascination with slow music, touches on Earth’s place in the music scene and the band’s avoidance of convenient genre tags, and his own development as a guitar player. It’s a very nice companion to the EP, and one which matches the music quite well in its unhurried pace and straight-up presentation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Class of '87
Having bought these albums during 1987, I arranged them on the living room floor, and photographed them—proof that I've always been a sad bastard with too much spare time.

Who else owns any of these? Bonus cred points for having the vinyl, of course.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Despite what I said at the end of my previous post, I don't think I've reached my live-gig saturation point. If I hadn't been sick last weekend, I would have gone to see Black Betty at Pub 340. I didn't even know about this band until a week ago, when I started to see posters for their show. I figured any band with the gumption to align themselves with Leadbelly and Ram Jam might be worth checking out. Then, while home from work and browsing the StonerRock.com album reviews forum, I saw their name again, had a listen at their myspace site, and got all stoked about their show, which happened to be that very night. That kind of coincidence is a good omen. Unfortunately, the future Mrs. Mule provided the necessary sanity check. If I'd gone, my sinuses would have probably imploded as the first power chord was struck.

There would have been power chords, most assuredly. Black Betty are a heavy outfit, especially for a duo. They've got massive guitars, massive drums, and massive singing...yes, actual singing. Righteous [mp3]. I'll have to track them down soon to get the album and maybe do a little reviewage of my own here.

My big thing with attending live shows is avoiding regret, the kind that pierces me when I see old gig posters for bands like Husker Du, who played here in 1985 when I was a full two years away from having a clue, and then it was too late; they were gone. Or the kind of regret that nags me in the present, as it's doing these days as a reformed Van der Graaf Generator tours across Europe and England.

They've pared down to the trio of Hammill, Evans and Banton, having booted out David "Jaxonsax" Jackson at the end of their 2005 tour. The ousting was done with utmost secrecy from the band, which generated a tornado of speculation amongst the fans and making for a fractious few weeks on the PH/VdGG mailing list, let me tell you. For many people, Jaxon's multi-sax attack was VdGG's signature, and so the new "power trio" format was greeted with nervous anticipation. Hardly anyone dismissed them outright, however. And, bless them, they're making it work, with Banton cranking it to the max, keeping himself busier than ever on organ and pedals, and Hammill playing a lot more guitar than he's done in VdGG lineups past. "This is a f***ing brilliant grunge band with unorthodox instrumentation!" gushed a fan after one of their first shows. They've dusted off material like the fearsome "Gog" and personal favourite "Meurglys III (The Songwriter's Guild)," and even added two new songs to the set. While the 2005 reunion was imbued with a lot of nostalgia, this incarnation is something truly new, and they're pushing their playing and their music forward. It's progressive rock, after all.

I've thought about reviewing the whole VdGG catalogue here in an attempt to express how much this music means to me, but I've been finding lately that the more I plan, worry, and think about this blog, the harder it gets to sit down and write. Maybe I'll get down to it; that's the kind of difficult music I originally planned to chronicle here. As I've learned, though, this is no place for planning.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I've been a gigging madman recently. Here's a roundup of the latest.

Red Sparowes, March 20, at Richard’s on Richards
I bought tickets to this show on a hunch. It’s not often that a band on the esteemed Neurot Recordings comes to town. The hunch paid off hugely, as Red Sparowes are one of the most impressive post-metal atmospheric bands I’ve ever seen. Having three guitarists in one band is often a redundant exercise (hello, Iron Maiden), but the Sparowes guys had obviously worked really hard at arranging and orchestrating their parts. The projections—showing what looked like old Chinese propaganda films—were also a nice touch. As Smash wrote afterwards, “I'd go see that band five nights a week.” A scintillating performance.

The Mingler, April 4 at The Cobalt
I don’t normally hang out at The Cobalt on a Wednesday night, but a) it was Fake Jazz Wednesday, an event I’d been wanting to check out, and b) improv jazz/noise/metal trio The Mingler were on the bill. I’d never seen them before (indeed, had they even gigged before?), but with a lineup consisting of musical genii Jeff Younger, Alvaro Rojas and Mike Magnusson it was sure bet. They’ve got about 79 ongoing projects between them, and I’ve always been blown away by the few I’ve witnessed. The brief samples on Younger’s site had me expecting something structured around pre-written bass riffs. In actuality, they flew from idea to idea really quickly, favouring chaos over groove. This suited the vibe of the event, really. Rojas churned away while Jeff freaked out with his pedals, mashing strings, bursting into speed metal passages, and dropping down for more conventional jazz soloing.

Mmm, mingly.

A Ghost to Kill Again with Karen Foster and Bend Sinister, April 6 at The Waldorf
I hyperventilated about AGTKA’s debut album here a little while ago, and this gig was their long-awaited record release party. I’d never been to the Waldorf before, though I remember it as the premiere venue for the lounge scene when that was big for 15 minutes 10 years ago. It’s a nice room, actually. The bands just set up at one end on the floor, punk rock style. Karen Foster/Foster Kare rocked really hard, reminding me of an older, wiser Squirrel Bait overall. Their incredible energy got everyone primed for AGTKA, who proceeded to lay down the kind of beautiful destruction that makes life worth living. It’s rare to see a band tackle such demanding material and do it with such joy. Dominant and flabbergasting. Bend Sinister closed off the evening. Maybe it was the shot in the arm that AGTKA had just administered, but BS seemed a bit frantic in their approach. I remember their set at Richard’s opening for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum being a little more composed. Still, I love this band to bits. Knowing there’s a band in Vancouver running Supertramp and Gentle Giant through an indie rock cheese grater makes me very happy.

Unexpect, Anonymus, April 7 at The Balmoral
The turnout was small and disproportionately cretinous for these two bands who’d come all the way from Quebec. Anonymus were thrashy and a little generic, reminding me of DRI at some points. They were ready to have a good time and intent on giving the audience a good time as well. Unexpect managed to arrange all seven members on the multi-tiered stage and pulled off their set of crazy stop-start circus-freak metal without anyone getting hurt. I started feeling a little bad for them as the evening progressed, though. Here’s a world-class act playing a supposedly world-class city and all we could offer them was a gig in the grimmest neighbourhood in North America with a dozen people actually listening and being excited about their music, while the rest of the crowd sat in the smoking room or play-fought like silly buggers. Unexpect deserved better. Do Make Say Think, an equally art-damaged act that perhaps has the advantage of more “hip” press coverage, managed to fill a pretty big place like Richard’s, and I think Unexpect have that potential as well.

Dark Tranquillity, The Haunted, Into Eternity, Scar Symmetry, April 9 at The Croatian Culture Centre
From Quebec metal night, we move to Swedish metal night. Four bands and an all-ages gig makes for an early start time, so I only caught the last two songs of Scar Symmetry’s set. What I heard sounded quite a bit like In Flames, a realization that didn’t bring on the pangs of regret for missing them. Despite their sound misfiring, with half the drum kit missing from the mix, Saskatchewan’s Into Eternity went over a storm. Stu Block’s a born heavy metal frontman—we spotted his proud parents by the merch table—and Tim Roth is pretty much the ultimate guitar shredder. Extreme progressive death metal from Canada…what’s not to like? The Haunted just keep at it year after year, despite (arguably) never surpassing their 1998 debut. It’s good to see both Bjorler brothers and vocalist Peter Dolving back in the band. Not having kept up with the band’s output, most of the set whizzed past me in a big thrashy blur. The slower numbers had a good groove; perhaps Anders Bjorler’s Trouble t-shirt hinted at a more doom-rock sensibility at work in their newer material. Dark Tranquillity sounded huge, and their twin guitar work was the classiest thing I’d heard all night. DT also have a great frontman in Mikael Stanne…if only the man could do anything but growl. They did well with the crowd on their first gig in Vancouver and seem to have a following almost equal to In Flames, who’ve played here fairly regularly. After 45 minutes, I was feeling gigged out so I headed home for a bit of peace and quiet.

That ought to hold me for a while.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Heaven and Hell, with Megadeth and Down, March 11/07, Pacific Coliseum
The crowd was the kind of multi-generational bouillabaisse that you get at these old-guard rock shows. From my vantage point on the general admission floor, there were enough case studies to fill a sociology text. The seven-year-old boy with the massive "Michael Bolton classic" crimped mullet throwing the horns from atop his parent/guardian's shoulders would merit a whole chapter of his own. Most of the teenagers there had dropped their allowance on Megadeth shirts, so Dave Mustaine and co were obviously a big draw.

Down played a good set of swingin' sludge metal. Phil Anselmo was definitely feeling the love, oozing sincerity and appreciation between songs. Drummer Jimmy Bower has to be one of the heaviest hitters I've seen. He nearly levitates on the windup for each downstroke. And Pepper Keenan's one of tastiest guitarists and coolest dudes in rock. I can't see Down ever headlining a show this size, but they made a great warmup act.

Megadeth had a lot of sound problems distracting them during their 45 minutes on stage. They did their best, but the stream of puzzled techs peering behind the amp stacks definitely divided the band's attention. If the bursts of feedback and bass guitar cutting in and out weren't enough, then a set list heavily biased towards newer Megadeth material didn't do much for me either. I'm still in denial over Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson leaving the band, so the early appearance of "Wake Up Dead" got me going, and post-Peace Sells... classics like "Symphony of Destruction" and "Holy Wars/Punishment Due" were good to hear as well. During the rest of the set I amused myself watching a single spotlight follow Mustaine's every move, leaving Glen Drover to solo away in the dark!

Heaven and Hell's first-ever show (I believe these musicians played in a band called Black Sabbath for many years) went down a storm. By now I'm sure everyone's seen setlists from the tour, so I'll summarize by saying they played everything you might have wanted to hear except for "Turn Up the Night." Personally, I was stoked to hear "Lady Evil" and "Sign of the Southern Cross," two songs that sort of define the parameters of Black Sabbath's music during the Dio years. The former is a good old hard rock stomper, while "Sign..." is a majestic epic with a classic Iommi riff. Dio was in good voice, faltering only a couple times on single words up in the high registers. He can still do it; they can all still do it. Along with all the Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules essentials, they played selections from Dehumanizer and three heavy new songs I believe they worked up for the Dio Years box set. No songs from the Ozzy years made it into the set (disappointing a certain tenured Georgia Straight critic), but that was as it should be. Iommi and Butler are shucking the stumbling spectre of their most famous frontman and re-establishing a band that played a big part in metal's ascendance in the early 80s. A triumphant kickoff for a revitalized (let's not deny it) Black Sabbath.

Photos courtesy Mr. Bob Sox.