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SOUNDTRACKTANYA TAGAQ-Live at Massey Hall (December 1, 2015).

This show begins the third season of Live at Massey Hall.  There are ten episodes in all.  And the first one is with the otherworldly whirlwind of Tanya Tagaq.

Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit singer.  She works with throat singing, but in a new (and somewhat controversial) manner.  She pairs the deep growls and grunts with high-pitched wails.  Her songs become primitive and raw and she seems to become possessed by the music.

This performance is simply amazing–there’s probably been nothing like it.  And what is most remarkable about the performance is that it is all improvised.

But none of this would work if the music were subpar or uninteresting and here’s where she is to be commended for selecting this group of musicians.  Including the 50 voice Element Choir.

Jesse Zubot plays violin like no one else, often as a percussive instrument and with all kinds of effects. Bernard Falaise plays guitars in washes of sound.  he’s also manipulating everything to create otherworldly effects.  And Jean Martin plays drums like no one I have seen.  It’s so much fun to watch.  And the way he punctuates things on and off the beat is really inspired.

The performance is intercut with an interview from before the show.  Its kind of a shame to interrupt the flow of the performance, but she’s also got a lot of interesting things to say.

The show opens with Zubot’s amazing violin, which includes him sliding the bow up and down the neck sideways to make a kind of scraping (but pleasant) sound.

She tells us (paraphrasing)

The combination of the venue and the audience impacts the music which is improvised.  They fall into the groove of the place–a cement box of mosh pits will come out differently from a seated hall.

I’m pretty grounded and I’m lucky because I spend half my time in the air.

Indigenous people are having a voice.  When I was growing up there was more shunning of our own culture.

Around 3:40 she starts singing/fluttering her voice. The choir is filling in behind her.

Around 5 minute she starts doing some real deep vocals and the drums kick in.

Martin is an amazing drummer.  He keeps the beat constant but is playing all over the cymbals and snare on polyrhythms with lots of clacks and rim shots.

Things get really intense around 8 minutes with the choir singing and the lights swirling and Tanya hitting cool high notes.

A kind of natural quieting moment occurs around 10 minutes and she talks about throat singing.

13 minutes she gets into a kind of rhythmic breathing with some cool sound effects from….someone.

After 19 minutes things start to build in intensity. It is so much fun watching the musicians play everything especially Martin–the way he is practically out of his seat hitting things.  Tagaq is singing in a  high voice, on her hands and knees.

Around 24 minutes things build to a peak that lends to a quieter moment and it cuts to her cracking up over

having people give me shit for not being traditional…. over the internet

Then the show comes back until the end.  She makes animal noises sounding like she’s having a conversation, with finger-animal-horns on her head.  Ecstatic moans and animalistic groans evoke a kind of call and response with the choir.

The final uninterrupted ten minutes are just an amazingly tense exercise.  Between the lights, the tension of the guitar the thumping of the drums and Tagaq herself being possessed where you can hear her “human voice” coming through the growls.

At 31 minutes she starts howling, and it sounds like a wolf–not a person doing a wolf.  The chorus is answering her as she poses and distorts her body.   And then she starts her circular breathing.  The sound of her breathing in and out is so intense–is she being chased, is she in the throes of passion.  Combined with the motions she makes and again the amazing percussion the last ten minutes are just mesmerizing.

Then it’s all denouement as she comes back into herself with thunder rumbling and crackling as she breathes.

I sure hope Owen Pallett didn’t have to follow that!

[READ: May 15, 2018] “Slingshot”

This is a story about love and how people perceive it.

The narrator explains that she was 70 when she met Richard who was thirty-two at the time.

Richard moved in next door and had lots of parties.  He was a fun-loving kind of guy and he had lots of lovers.

But he also stated that there is no such thing as love.  The narrator’s granddaughter Rose claimed to be in love all of the time and would then wind up crying by the phone.  The narrator herself had been in love–she had been married once some thirty years ago. Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Live at Massey Hall (September 11, 2015).

Having now seen Sloan twice, it’s nice to compare this earlier show with mine.  And I get  to say that my shows were longer!  Much longer.

This edited for the web version leaves out 11 songs (including the ones which drummer Andrew Scott sings on–so there’s no switching instruments).  Having said that, the band sounds great and the set list is really strong.  I also had no idea that Gregory MacDonald had been touring with them for that long.

Jay Ferguson compares Massey Hall to Carnegie Hall and then regrets comparing something Canadian to something American).  Chris Murphy says “I don’t often use the word “hallowed,” but it is a “hallowed hall.”

He continues, “We are quite loud, we wondered, Do we try to tailor our set for Massey Hall–more like a theater set of songs?  We didn’t do that essentially because we’re incapable:   everybody turn down and then its like a volume war everybody turning up until we’re as loud as ever.”

They start with a great Jay song “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind.”  The band sounds great although the dominance of keyboards from Greg is surprising as the first song.

Introducing “The Rest of My Life,” Chris says, “You don’t have to stand but… sing along please.  Of course everyone sings “I know that I’ll be living it in Canada.”  As the song rings out, Chris starts a clap which segues into Patrick singing “Ill Placed Trust.”

Chris says, “We never got giant but we enjoy an audience that has followed us for a long time.  Thank you.”

The start the great guitar riff on the dark “The Other Man.”  There’s lots of sing-alongs in this one, too.

Jay is back with the super catchy “Who Taught You to Live Like That.”  And as the song fades out the siren roars the intro for “Money City Manis.”  Chris notes, “You actually have to stand up for this one.  You have to.”

Patrick and Chris take turns on lead vocals and then during the instrumental break Chris calls a six-year-old girl up on stage who dances, plays the tambourine and knows all the words.  Patrick says, “like I’m gonna be able to solo over that–that’s the solo right there.”  Chris wonders, “When you look at this stage, where does your eye go?”  She is amazingly self-possessed.

They end with the obvious–but a wonderful obviousness with “Underwhelmed.”  They (and the audience) have a ripping time of it.

It’s interesting just how long the band played in reality.  But yes, even after all this time, Sloan is a dynamic live act.  And this is great proof of that.

  1. O Canada
  2. Deeper Than Beauty
  3. If It Feels Good Do It
  4. C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)
  5. Carried Away
  6. Keep Swinging (Downtown)
  7. Snowsuit Sound
  8. Fading Into Obscurity
  9. Forty-Eight Portraits
  10. Unkind
  11. You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind
  12. The Rest of My Life
  13. Ill Placed Trust
  14. The Other Man
  15. Who Taught You to Live Like That
  16. Money City Maniacs
  17. encore
  18. People of the Sky
  19. Underwhelmed

[READ: May 10, 2018] “Dinner Party”

This is an excerpt from a novel Kudos.  It being an excerpt does explain some of the sparseness, but it feels like such a unique event that I can’t imagine even who the main character is supposed to be involved with in previous and future pages.

A writer enters a restaurant.  She is at a writing conference and she and the other delegates are to be treated to dinner.  I love this line “The delegates were reluctant to [sit], knowing their fate would thus be settled for the duration of the meal.”

The narrator recognized a woman from an all-female panel discussion who recognized her and instantly came over to talk to her.  The woman introduced herself “with the pragmatic directness of someone who accepts rather than fears the likelihood of such things being forgotten.” Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: ZEUS-Live at Massey Hall (September 11, 2015).

I had never heard of the Canadian band Zeus.  They seem pretty well-known (and have since become the backing band for Jason Collett when he’s not doing Broken Social Scene).

The band has been active for nearly a decade, but have only released a couple of albums (it is mentioned during the set that they are working on new material, but that was three years ago).

They talk about the amazing sound in Massey Hall.

Massey Hall is the furthest from a giant gnarly arena you can get.  We’ve played places with similar capacity and similar sound but there is something different here.  It sound really good and clean.  Maybe I would be intimidated if I played on this stage but you remember that not just anybody gets to pay here–you get asked to play here. This takes some of the onus off of being intimidated–you feel important in here.

Carlin says, “You never wanna say you had a shitty show at Massey Hall.  But you can hear yourself really well here, maybe that’s why they are all so good.  There’s always legendary shows there.

Everyone in the band switches instruments throughout.  It’s hard to keep track of what everyone is doing.  The only one who doesn’t move is Mr Robert Anthony Drake on the drums.

“Come Home” starts with a Carlin Nicholson on bass and Mike O’Brien on the electric guitar.  They share a microphone and the harmonies.  Neil Quinn is on acoustic guitar off to the side. adding a third voice.  It’s a surprisingly short song.

“Where is My Love” has Neil, still on acoustic, singing lead with his deep voice and an occasional falsetto on certain notes.  This song is quiet for the beginning with just the acoustic guitar and keys before the rest of the band kicks in.  The song shifts gear and musically sounds like a slower Sloan song (whom they were paired with that night) but the vocals are quite different.  Mike has shifted to keys with Carlin still on bass.  Jason Haberman is also playing multiple instruments–he’s on guitar for this one.

“Miss My Friends” has a kind of funky, almost disco rhythm.  Carlin has switched to keyboards and Mike O’Brien is on bass where he sings lead vocals.  Neil Quinn plays electric guitar and c Habermans has switched to electronic percussion.

Carlin introduces the next song, “This goes back to the very first Zeus record, “I Know.”  It’s got Carlin on keys and lead vocals. Neil on bass, Mike on guitar and Haberman on acoustic guitar.  Carlin invited people to sing is they know it but I can’t hear of anyone does.

Neil shifts to a pretty melody on the keys with a gorgeous intertwining melody from Mike.  It’s a great opening to “Heavy on Me.”  There’s cool 70’s sounding keyboards and a great bass rumble.  There’s a lot of quieter moments where the bass is all there is and the riff is cool and slinky.  The song ends with great jamming session with a noisy rocking guitar solo and heavy drums.

After the applause, Neil says, “Thank you.  This is just what this band needs right now–a house fill of love like this.”

“Air I Walk” has a shuffling beat with (questionable) electronic percussion hits.  Carlin back  bass with Neil on acoustic guitars and lead vocals.  It sound kind of mid 8os Dire Straits

“Throwdown” doesn’t sound like a throw down as it opens.  There’s quiet guitars and gentle vocals from Mike.  But it gets really big by the middle and sounds like a non-synthy 80s classic rock songs.

The show ends with “Are You Gonna Waste My Time.”  Just like the opening, Neil is on guitar and vocals, Mike plays a great lead guitar and Carlin is on bass.

I really enjoyed this set quite a lot.  Zeus is a little soft rock for my tastes, but their musicianship and songwriting is top notch.

[READ: May 21, 2018] “Seven Years of Identity Theft”

Rick Moody had his identity stolen.  We all hear about this happening, but he really shows you how much of a real pain in the ass it is.  It’s not just a matter of getting new credit cards.

This essay is written as a series of letters.

The first letter is to the Most Honorable President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.  He writes of leaving his bank card in an ATM in Macon, Georgia and that’s when he assumes it all started–the theft of his identity–back in 2011.

A week later his replacement card was rejected and ultimately deactivated due to fraudulent transactions. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACKSPIRIT OF THE WEST-Live at Massey Hall (June 6, 2015).

This proves to be a pretty powerful show.

I was introduced to Spirit of the West by my Vancouver based friend Amber back in the 1990s.  I didn’t really keep up with them, but I have long enjoyed their album faithlift.

But here it is 2015 and as the blurb at the beginning of the show says:

In 2014, at the age of 51, John Mann, Spirit of the West’s lead singer, was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  On June 6, 2015, Spirit of the West would play their one and only show at Toronto’s Legendary Massey Hall.

The rest of the band includes Hugh McMillan, Vince Ditrich, Tobin Frank and Matthew Harder all of whom play various instruments including keyboards, accordion and all things with strings.

Most of the band have never been in Massey or even seen it.  But they marvel at the venue and are genuinely moved by the end of this show.

They open with their hit (from faithlift) “And If Venice is Sinking.”  It’s got accordion and a big bass line and some funny lyrics and a full backing vocal chorus.

We made love upon a bed
That sagged down to the floor
In a room that had a postcard on the door
Of Marini’s Little Man
With an erection on a horse
It always leaves me laughing

John Mann is the lead singer, Geoff Kelly is the co-lead guy.  He does most of the speaking.  He says “This is as close as were every gonna get to Beatlemania.”

Next up is “King of Scotland” about a man who desperately wanted to be Scottish.  It, like many of their songs is a rousing half-trad/half rocking song.  Incidentally, Mann has been singing off of an iPad to help with his memory.

“Doin’ Quite Alright” is the first of many songs sung by Kelly.  he also plays bodhran.  It sounds quite trad and is much faster with a  cool bassline.  The addition of 70s sounding keyboards is a little odd though.

“July” sees the introduction of what I think is a bouzouki and sounds an awful lot like “Love is All Around” by Wet Wet Wet except for the fun and powerful chorus of JuLYYYYYYYY!

Kelly jokes that someone in the band is delighted by Massey Hall because it is finally something he’s found that is older than Kelly is.

Up next is “Political,” a song “we recorded on our Labour Day record in 1988ish and then again on Go Figure and then again with the Vancouver symphony.  I guess we really like this song.  Kelly is on flute and plays a wild harmonica solo.

Next up is their newest song, which is about 12 years old.  It’s about how every year New Year’s parties just get worse and worse.  “Another Happy New Year” starts out with slow staccato piano and then it really takes off (with Kelly on the penny whistle).

After sincerely thanking everyone for their kindness (it’s getting pretty emotional), they are going to play a drinking song called The Crawl.  The crowd really gets into the raucous song.

The night ends with Kelly saying this was the most awesome night ever.  They are going to leave everyone with “Home for a Rest.”  The audience sings along with Mann for the first verse and then Mann backs off and lets them sing it all.  It’s pretty great.  As is the song which ends with a wild instrumental jam that’s basically a flute-led jig which ends the sing and the show.

I imagine being there was pretty special.

[READ: May 15, 2018] “Nothing But”

This is a wonderful short essay on memory with the epigram: “The truth–that thing I thought I was telling.”

He begins by talking about a chapter in his book White Sands about a visit to the house of Theodor Adorno.  The essay takes its title “Pilgrimage” from a short story (why is it not considered a memoir?) by Susan Sontag in which she and her friend Merrill went to the house of Thomas Mann when she was 14.

It came out later that Merrill never understood why Susan left their friend Gene (who had gone with them) out of the story entirely.  (It happened in 1947, she wrote it in 1987).   This shows “a startling manifestation of the vagaries of memory and a vindication of what can sometimes seem like the fussiness of editorial fact-checking.” Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACKLISA LEBLANC-Live at Massey Hall (June 6, 2015).

I thought I didn’t know who Lisa LeBlanc was, but it turns out that I knew her song “5,748 km” from a NPR episode.  How funny.

LeBlanc thanks Massey Hall for putting her on and for supporting new artists.  It’s so legendary, she can’t imagine what’s going to happen right now.

The show, in which LeBlanc opens for Spirit of the West, opens with this formal introduction.

Welcome to Massey Hall. To get the night going when you have a band like Spirit of the West who is dynamic and fun, who else can you bring to match that kind of excitement?  Please welcome to the stage Lisa LeBlanc.

She walks out on stage, grabs the banjo and plays a slow banjo melody.  After a beat or two she starts whistling a forlorn melody–a perfect Western-sounding instrumental (her whistling is very impressive).

Her whistling is great.

Then she gets a sly look and starts playing her banjo a little faster.    And then completely unexpectedly (to me anyway) her drummer (Maxime Gosselin) and baritone guitarist (Jean-Phillipe Hebert) start trashing like lunatics.  “Gold Diggin’ Hoedown” is a song that perfectly meets what her style is called: “trash rock” It is crazy and fun.

She says she grew up in New Brunswick playing music in the “kitchen party” scene.  She played with her uncles in the garage instead of going partying with the cool kids.  “I was kind of a loser.”

The next song is in the same style, but it is sung in French.  “Cerveau ramolli” which she translates as “My Brain is Mushy.”  This song is totally rocking with great thumping floor toms.

I can’t find the names of all of the songs (usually the video names them, but not this time).  There’s another song in French.

She switches banjos and then talks about “Katie Cruel,” a song that no one knows where it came from and it’s her favorite song of all time.  There’s a quiet part in the middle with just banjo and then nearly a capella before rocketing back to life.

She gets a new banjo and sings quietly over gentle picking:

Don’t try to figure out what’s going on his head / he ain’t trying hard to see whats going on in yours….  I love these lyrics:

He’ll give you the shirt off his back but he wont give you his heart.

She tells the audience she’s from New Brunswick.  Cheers from half the crowd.  Then she says she’s from a town of 51 people.  She was trying to date someone from Vancouver.  Canada is really big.  This is an introduction to “5.748 km” in which she plays guitar instead of banjo.  It’s a spoken/sung song.

She says “Let’s talk about cowboys” and then sings a song in French called (I believe) “J’pas un cowboy.”

For the final song she says the title “You look like trouble but I guess I do too” is quite self-explanatory.  After a few verses they take off.  That baritone guitar is so low and rumbling.  Things slow down in the middle where she plays a great banjo solo and then the sing thrashes to an end.

Over the credits she sings part of one more song this time with electric guitar.

LeBlanc is multi-talented and a lot of fun.  She’d be an excellent opener for anyone.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Mum’s the Word”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

This is a funny (sort of) essay about being a parent and how “as a parent I spend a good amount of time talking about things that don’T interest me like My Little Pony, or pasta, or death.”

The death part is funny because her four-year old daughter is suddenly obsessed with it.  But in unusual ways: “When I die…I want to die in Egypt so that I can be a mummy.”  After half paying attention, Rivka nods assent then her daughter says “Mummies make other mummies.  With toilet paper.” Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: CONSTANTINES-Live at Massey Hall (May 27, 2015).

From the clips I’ve seen, Constantines are (were?) an incredible live band.  They have so much intensity.

In the opening, they are asked  Are you guys nervous?  They don’t seem to be although they concede that “Nervous is good, it keeps you on your toes.”

At some point we decided to run the band where we would play anywhere with a three-pronged outlet.  It led to playing a lot of amazing spaces…non-performance spaces like skate shops and basements and art galleries.  This feels like an incredible extension of that to play Massey Hall… a historic venue.

“Draw Us Lines” opens the show with thunderous drums and squalling feedback as the band gets the audience clapping along to a simple rhythm while Bry Webb sings in his deep raspy voice.  I love how much noise the keyboardist makes just pounding on keys–at times leaning on the machine with his whole arm.

“Our Age” has martial beats and an interesting low riff that runs through the verses–but the choruses burst forth really catchy.  “On to You” was a single I believe.  It has loud verses and a quiet, understated chorus.  I love how much they raise their guitars–the bassist even plays with the instrument raised over his head

“Young Offenders” rocks as hard as anything else they play, but it adds the surprising lyric: “young hearts be free tonight … time is on your side,” before launching into the heady section with the crowd shouting “Can I get a witness.”

“Nighttime/Anytime {It’s Alright)” has a great slinky guitar intro and sounds very familiar–as if it’s quoting another song, but I can’t figure out what.

More thumping drums (the drummer must be exhausted) and some distortion and feedback introduce “Young Lions” which starts as kind of catchy rocks song but features wonderful noise section in which everyone plays with feedback and the keyboardist actually sits on the keys before returning to that really catchy section.

The show ends with “National Hum,” a blistering loud track with discordant chords and intense vocals.  The drums just seem to go faster and faster as the song goes on.

They play this show like it’s the most important show they’ve ever played.  And the crowd responds accordingly.  It’s unclear to me if Constantines are broken up or not, but if they ever come around, they are a must-see show.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “What is Possible”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

I love the opening of this essay in which Mohsin says that his mom worked an entry-level job at what would now be considered a Silicon Valley tech business.  They made audiocassettes.

His father made peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and picked Mohsin up from school on his bike.  His dad had a mustache and sideburns but no hair.  They went to the university where his father was studying.  Or they went home to watch cartoons on the small black and white TV.

Mohsin says he always saw colors on it “though I was told by friends that this wasn’t possible.”  I relate to this because I had a black and white TV in my room growing up and I was sure it was color until one day when I went to my parents TV and compared sided by side and saw just how colorful their TV was. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: CHAD VANGAALEN-Live at Massey Hall (May 27, 2015).

The name Chad VanGaalen sounded familiar to me, and it turns out I know a couple of his songs from NPR.  But I didn’t recognize them here.

As the show opens, he says he only recently heard of Massey Hall and he was blown away by the architecture

He’s glad he’s playing acoustic but even more so that he’s dong the whole one man band and not just a guy with a guitar–he never been that good at playing guitar, so he needs more.  He is playing with Julie Fader “saved his ass on multiple occasions.”   She is one of his favorite people to play with–she does harmonies very well plus it’s nice to play with a  female….  I’m always playing with a bunch of dudes its nice to temper the energy a bit.

“Pine and Clover” opens the show.  Chad play a pretty guitar intro (not power chords-which is what he claimed was all he could play).  As the camera pulls back, you see that he is also playing bass and snare drum with his feet.  Julie sings backing vocals and plays flute.  Next up is “Broken Bell.”  It’s a pretty, slower song.  I love the lyric: “I sit and do a drawing, a portrait of my dad, I should really visit him before he is dead.”  This lyrics gets a big reaction: “Should I take the advice of the graffiti on the wall telling me to go suck it? / should Ii listen to the voices ringing in my head like a broken bell?”

“Hangman’s Son” slows things down a little further, but “Weird Love” is kind of a stomper with some interesting slightly dissonant flute (or maybe its the guitar that is dissonant).

“Peace on the Rise” gets some applause from the start, as does “Willow Tree” which is a quieter, picked guitar song.  For “Cut My Hair” he switches to capo 7 and plays a lovely melody.  But it soon becomes a real stomper: “I will never learn my lesson.”

The final song is dedicated to his daughters. He says he has been teaching them to fish.  Which is “way more fun than doing this….  Not saying this isn’t fun….  It’s really stressing me out…  Holy shit.”  He says he doesn’t like killing he fish but his 7-year-old is like “oh yeah!’  She’s the henchman and he’s in charge of the barbeque, “Which is what you should do with kids–don;t let them run the barbeque.”

“So ‘Burning Candle’ goes out to my girls….  If I fuck this up I’m the worst dad in the world.  It’s pretty and quite short and no, he doesn’t fuck it up.”

[READ: June 2, 2018] “My Father’s Face”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

Chang-rae says that a clear childhood memory of “my father washing his face.”

His father was very particular about it–“with a vigor and thoroughness that made me feel somehow cleaner for simply having watched him.”  This was the early 1970s and his father was settling into to his first doctoring position as a Bronx V.A. hospital.

Their flat was small but suitable with a place for he and his sister to play. Continue Reading »