Thursday, May 24, 2007

If you ever need a laugh, read the Dinosaur Jr chapter in Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground 1981-1991. It's a hilarious litany of passive aggressiveness, mutual loathing, interpersonal diasters and all-round bad behaviour. It's amazing that that classic, fractious trio is back together again, touring and recording. Their show at the Commodore last night was big and loud, probably much the same as when they got in the van to play gigs for six people 20 years ago. I last saw them in 1991 on the Green Mind tour after they'd ousted Lou Barlow by pretending to break up, then drafting in another bassist. Alterna-rock fever had hit, so the club (86th Street, I think it was) was pretty full. I was there alone and not liking the scene too much, especially after The Jesus Lizard (a band I'd learn to love) laid a bummer on everyone with an abrasive set. Fifteen years later, the atmosphere at the Commodore was much more mellow. J's Stonehenge-like semicircle of Marshall stacks gave out during the first song, but no matter—Lou and Murph just kept hammering away till the song's end. The rest of the set went by uneventfully, with a sprinkling of new songs amongst the older material, with the requisite murmured "thank you"s and awkward silences between numbers. The bonhomie between band members didn't exactly gush forth. Things seemed a little tense, but that's to be expected. They concentrated on throttling their respective instruments and, like most great bands, the sound they created—like Crazy Horse playing hardcore pushed through a fridge-sized distortion box—had that something that you can't attribute to any one element. They did "Little Fury Things," "Raisans," and "In a Jar" and not very much at all from Bug. I'd hoped they might do "The Post." The set ended with a powerful You're Living All Over Me double shot of "Kracked" and "Sludgefeast" before the band came out for an encore consisting of a speedy, perfunctory "Freak Scene" and "Forget the Swan" with an extended J solo. A solid show from a band I'm glad I got the chance to see again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I got back today from Mayne Island, where I spent a fantastic long weekend with fancylady. The weather was just okay—rain, cloud, a sunny break or two—but we managed to get out for some walks to a couple points of interest. These were quite literally points: Campbell Point and Edith Point. There was wildlife around, but we had to wait for it to come to us. Our first stop was a bit disappointing, with only a river otter (or sea-weasel as I call them) darting around. Edith Point had a couple seals and an eagle that flew low over us as it went to raid some gulls' bounty (judging by the squawks that erupted after the eagle disappeared from view).
The eagle in question, in a photo that would suit a Jack Handey-style daily affirmation.

Mainly we pursued indoor activities. I recorded another hard-fought 1:30 of Mule music. Judging by my progress I'm afraid the next album will be nothing more than half-realized instrumental sketches. I read a really enlightening and enjoyable book about The Office ("a critical reading of the {British] series"), that not only shed new light on a fine TV series, but also served as a useful primer on contemporary British TV comedy. On night we rented Stranger Than Fiction from the gas station/video store, but the overwhelming a/v success was season one of Curb Your Enthusiasm (courtesy the VPL), with Larry David playing himself—basically a guy who shouldn't be allowed to interact with the outside world.

And music—you have to bring a load of music to the island. I don't think we even got through half of what I packed, but the hit parade included:
Falconer—Grime vs. Grandeur
Clutch—Beale Street or Oblivion
Archer Prewitt—Wilderness
Elvis Costello—This Year's Model
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
A Ghost to Kill Again—s/t
Neil Young and Crazy Horse—Weld
The Decemberists—The Crane Wife
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers—Moanin'

The aftermath of the Rack-O tournament. Everyone's favourite numerical order game takes a violent turn.

That's more like it. Fancylady, let loose on a game recommended for age 10 and up, cleans my clock.

No one's very keen on this place going in down the road from us.

Low tide at Campbell Point.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

JPT Scare Band—Jamm Vapour (Kung Bomar Records)
This album arrived while I was sick with a head cold that wouldn’t budge. I’d spent most of the week at home in an anhedonic torpor, trying to kill time with movies and records, and finding myself unable to enjoy anything. Anyway, once the illness broke, I threw this album on and inhaled some recovery-hastening Jamm Vapour…and I was back on my feet again. The latest from Jeff, Paul, and Terry is a collection of newish recordings from 2001, solidly in the tradition of the classic JPT material from the 1970s (see Sleeping Sickness on Monster Records, or their self-released mix of oldies and newies, Past is Prologue). They laid this thing down live and dangerous in the basement, and while their sound might not be as dark and volatile as it once was, they’ve clearly still got the fire. The pics in the CD booklet are ample evidence of some serious middle-age mania at play here. The JPT modus operandi is pretty straightforward: write a really cool ’70s-style rock song and jam it out to wring the maximum amount of music and excitement out of it. Take it up, take it down, drop out, drop in, and sprinkle liberally with Terry Swope’s mad-as-a-hatter guitar work. The really joyous thing about the whole enterprise is how it so obviously comes naturally to them. Unlike so many ’70s-themed projects nowadays, these guys are the real deal. The six songs average around 9 minutes apiece. “Amazons” is a real mid-paced bruiser with an opening charge that reminds me of Crazy Horse at their meanest…though that notion evaporates the moment Swope lets fly, leaving old Neil in the dust. If anything he’s gotten even noisier and splatter-happy as the years have passed. Things take a bluesy turn on “Ramona,” which works through some time-honoured changes in a very satisfying manner. There’s some great bass playing on this one as Paul Grigsby puts on a clinic on how to play bass in a power trio. “Rainbow Bridge” is a more emotional number that reminds me a bit of early Rush, specifically Rutsey Rush and the song “Here Again.” In fact I’d like to make these guys honorary Canadians for their devotion to righteously unpretentious guitar rock, and not necessarily ’cause Terry’s vocals recall Rik Emmett at times. The album peaks at an appropriate point, right in the middle with “Right Mind,” which is a great song by any definition. Drop out all the crazy soloing and you’d still have a winner. The only point on the album where they come close to losing me is an off-the-cuff number called “Gelo Jam,” an 11-minute free-form quasi-raga recorded at the end of a long, long day that gets a little silly lyrically. The loopiness is understandable, but it’s one of those tunes where you had to be there, I suppose. I will say it’s well-placed as the penultimate number—a palate cleanser before all-out rocker “Hungry For Your Love.” And after this last burst of energy, there’s a definite funk hanging in the silent air. Is it sweat, or overheated amp tubes, or stale beer? Whatever that Jamm Vapour might be, it’s certainly been a gas.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

This is more like it. Maybe the assholes don't always win, and it is possible to thrive as a self-respecting artist in a predominantly online environment. It's just that now you don't have to answer to The Suits; you have to answer to your fans...over and over again.

I've been thinking that the future for musicians might lie in touring. While I've noticed record stores growing more empty by the month, live shows are as popular as ever. People are still really gung-ho about going out and rocking out. The Net may be a lousy music-delivery system (to my Luddite POV), but it's a fantastic environment in which to promote yourself. I'd say more than half the shows I attend I read about on Blabbermouth or some forum or other. Half-full rooms are a rarity these days, and post-show scrums around the merch table are pretty common.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

We have a saying around our house: "The assholes always win." They cancel TV shows, they close music venues, they elect shifty politicians, they ignore science and co-opt art, they protect and perpetuate their own loathsome kind.

Now they get to decide the future of music:

Vered Koren, vice-president of content and business development for Hip Digital Media, said one way to capitalize on the internet is to associate artists with international brands, such as soft-drink makers.

The beverage makers would pay for rights to a certain number of copies of a track, which the drink's consumers could obtain by redeeming a digital code — an arrangement currently in effect between Pepsi and singer Joss Stone.

"Pepsi's a big company. It brings credibility to Joss Stone and vice versa," Koren said.

So while everyone's downloading their crap and feeling good about sticking it to the record labels and the media conglomerates, be assured that the assholes are working on a system way more insidious and corrupt than the bad old days.

Hey, kids, want to hear Gwen Stefani's new song? Eat this pizza pocket. Would you like to download Genesis's reunion track, "Turn It On Again (Again)"? Test drive a Lexus, and you can. Oh, you've already got a leak from Diana Krall's last session? We've gone and pre-registered you for a Yaletown skyhome. Enjoy the tunes!