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SOUNDTRACK: SKATING POLLY-The Big Fit (2014).

The Big Fit is a slicker and more satisfying album from this duo.  Their songs are still noisy and abrasive and neither singer holds back, but overall the songs sound even better (I’m sure it’s the production as well).

“Oddie Moore” starts out quietly with just Peyton singing and then Kelli joining her (showing off some nice singing and harmonies) and a really catchy melody.

But it’s “Perfume for Now” that really shows how much their songwriting has jumped in one album.  It begins quietly with some cool bass lines and Kelli’s quieter singing.  Then comes the chorus in which Kelli sing/screams a line and Peyton basically just melodically screams a punctuation mark.  It’s terrific.  Then just to add to the tension, there’s a quiet bridge: “I know you wanted to be class white trash / Or were you going for class clown?”  And when they join together at the end of the chorus in harmony it’s really great.  I can’t help but feel that this song encapsulates the Skating Polly sound perfectly (and it was amazing live).

“Pretective Boy” switches things up a both with a poppier sound and some cool vocal parts from both singers.  “Cosmetic Skull” (whatever that means) is a piano-based song–a big change of pace with the sweet tribute to their matriarch: “I want to dance with Exene, coz she can lead.”  It’s a quieter song that shows that they’re not just all screams and feedback.  Their dual vocals at the end sound really cool, too.

“Nothing More Than a Body” has a simple, quiet guitar-chugging opening.  But rather than just the chugging chords, each line ends with three picked notes–it’s those little details that elevate these songs.  Kelli’s interesting “oooh” backing vocals that changes styles between lines are also a nice touch.  And then there’s the big chorus with the backing vocals mixed almost creepily in the mix.

“Hey Sweet” is a blistering noisy blast of a song–screamed by Kelli with a relentless bad-ass guitar riff.  Even a fast blast like this is 3 minutes long–these girls do not slouch when it comes to songwriting.

I was puzzled by “Morning Dew” because it sounded so unlike them and seemed so…odd.  I had no idea that it was written in the 1960s by Bonnie Dobson.  I thought it was such an odd song that a person is saying he heard someone and the other voice say she did not (in the Skating Polly version, Kelli screams this section as it turns into blistering punk).  I was really puzzled by the song and have now found out: “The song is a dialogue between the last man and woman left alive following an apocalyptic catastrophe: Dobson has stated that the initial inspiration for “Morning Dew” was the film On the Beach which is focused on the survivors of virtual global annihilation by nuclear holocaust. The actual writing of the song occurred in 1961 while Dobson was staying with a friend in Los Angeles: Dobson would recall how the guests at her friend’s apartment were speculating about a nuclear war’s aftermath and “after everyone went to bed, I sat up and suddenly I just started writing this song [although] I had never written [a song] in my life.”  Creepy.

“Arms & Opinons” bonces back with a piano melody  the middle section with the repeating piano melody and the backing vocals is spooky and very cool.  When both girls sing the next part it sounds tremendous.

Oh, please forget me for my sins
My charming hungriness has got me once again
My father sent me out, he told me what to do
But instead of listening, I filled up his cup to the top with glue
He tried to drink, he tried to swallow
But due to the lack of the air his face was turning dark blue
And I felt bad just for a second
But mainly I was laughing because I just brought the day

“For the View” is a quieter song with Peyton working through many different vocal deliveries–whispering, falsetto, a scream like Corin Tucker, and some good old rage screaming, too.  The drums are heavy on the toms which is also very cool.

“Stop Digging” has so many parts, it’s very neat.  It starts with a simple bass line and Peyton’s drumming.  Kelli sings quietly until the loud chorus which is all distorted.  The third sections sounds really different and catchy and then there’s a quick fourth section.  And then when the song seems like it’s over they add in yet another part with a great heavy distorted riff and big vocals for both of them.  The song could end there, but it adds a coda: “the first rule of holes, stop digging; the first step of getting out of a hole, stop digging.”

“Across the Caves” is a piano song.  It is a little faster than the other with some good drumming.  The disc ends with “Picker of His Words.”  This is a quiet acoustic song with Kelli and Peyton singing alternating verses to each other.  Kelli plays a simple bass riff and Peyton plays an interesting counterpoint guitar line over it.  It sounds pretty sophisticated and really shows off how nice their voices are when unadorned.

Since recording this album, they have added their brother to the band and have done work with Louise and Nina from Veruca Salt.  I’m really curious to see what their new stuff sounds like.  And I really hope I can see them live again–they were tremendous.

[READ: September 20, 2017] “A Recognized Man”

Timothy is a famous actor.  And he has a secret.  Lots of secrets, actually.

He is in love with René “or felt he very soon would be.”  He and Rene would be going to the Award ceremony in a few months but tonight was a special party for Timothy’s birthday.

René was not famous and he still really enjoyed seeing the reactions of people when they recognized Timothy. Timothy had other boyfriends who quickly tired of that adulation,but René did not.

Timothy is looking forward to a quiet night out with René.  He pretends to be surprised that René is taking them to Timothy’s favourite restaurant. But he is genuinely surprised to see that other people are there too. Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACK: ART OF TIME ENSEMBLE-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2012)

The Art of Time Ensemble does many things although my exposure to them is through their string performances of rock songs

Led by Artistic Director Andrew Burashko, Art of Time Ensemble transforms the way you experience music. Fusing high art and popular culture in concerts that juxtapose the best of each genre, Art of Time entertains as it enlightens, revealing the universal qualities that lie at the heart of all great music.

Sarah and I saw a live show of this tour.  And this recording is pretty much the same (I’m sure there’s some variations).  It is more than just a symphonic version of the record.  The Art of Time Ensemble created new arrangements of the songs.  Purists might hate this, but it is lovingly created and made with a few extra orchestral moments thrown in.

This disc was recorded live in concert May 31, June 1 & 2, 2012 at the Enwave Theatre in Toronto

The disc opens, of course with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  Steven Page sings the song with rocking guitars and horns.  There’s cool a capella moment with them all singing the “it’s wonderful to be here” moment.  Before allowing the next song to start the band does the slow orchestra rise of notes at the end of the album.  Clearly showing that while hey are staying somewhat faithful to the record, there will be surprises.

“With A Little Help From My Friends” has gentle swirling orchestral notes as John Mann (from Spirit of the West) sings.  This song seems to be all about the orchestra as they take many liberties with the melodies and soloing moments.

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” Craig Northey sings this classic which is quite understated, especially in the chorus, when he sings falsetto and there;s minimal accompaniment.  However, those three thumps before the chorus are as loud as anything.

Andy Maize’s gruff, weathered voice sounds great for “Getting Better.”  But it’s Page’s harmonies in the chorus that make this song transcendent.  “Fixing A Hole: is the first song that really changes the original.  It has a kind of Kurt Weill cabaret/circus vibe with John Mann hitting some challenging notes.  But the music is so sinister, it’s quite interesting.

“She’s Leaving Home” is achingly, beautifully sung by Steven Page.  The backing vocals are perfect, too.
“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!” has a few strange moments in which the bulk of the music cuts out for pizzicato strings or when the middle section features an extended waltz for Mrs K to dance.  Craig Northey sounds like he’s singing through a megaphone but that seems unlikely.  By the end, Northey also seems to be talking Mr. Kite down from his foolish behavior (“Oh, he;s falling”).

“Within You Without You” is the other song that Andy Maize takes lead on.  On the original, the song is done in Indian classical style.  This version has strings filling in with repeated melodies.  Indian hand drums are used at the end and while I’m not certain, I think there was no sitar used, but the melodies on violin and voila do a great job of representing that sound.

“When I’m Sixty-Four” is very string-heavy and takes a bit before it gets the bouncey feel of the original.  John Mann does a nice job with the song and the backing singers do a great job too.  I’m only bummed that there’s no musical punctuation on Vera Chuck and Dave.

A long piano intro opens “Lovely Rita” before Steven Page takes lead vocals–a song well suited to him.  The big surprise comes in the middle when there’s a lenghthy big band dance section including a muted trumpet and a real nor jazz feel.  After the nifty trumpet solo there’s a clap along for the ending chorus.

The members all greet each other “Good Morning” before “Good Morning Good Morning” starts up, sung by Craig Northey.  It’s one of the more rocking songs.  At least until the swirling heavy guitars that open “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).”  There is a chorus of vocals singing with vamping from Steven Page.

The disc ends with “A Day in the Life” with Andy Maize on the first section (squeaking out that House of Lords line) and Craig Northey taking the faster part.  Since the orchestra already did the end of the album much earlier the end of the concert is quiet, much more subtle.

The album is over but there are two bonus Beatles songs.  “Penny Lane” sung by Steven Page might be noticeable for the trumpet getting the solo perfect.

The whole show ends with “All You Need is Love” with everyone getting a verse.  There are a number of Beatles’ lines thrown in during the outro, like Page singing “I should have known better with a girl like you” and “All I’ve got is a photograph” (from Ringo).

This is a fun take on a classic album.  And while I’ll always prefer the original, it’s nice for a change of pace.

[READ: April 11, 2016] “Soldier’s Joy”

I don’t quite understand the title of this story, but that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of it.

The story is about a woman, Nana, and her much older husband.  It opens with her relating to him a dream she had.  In the dream, he sent her a love letter in which he stated how lucky he was “that you still want to live with me.”  He laughs and says he is quite humble isn’t he.

In his dream he imagined that their friend Helen, a “preposterously impossible person,” was pregnant.  Helen had hosted them the previous evening and her husband had been drunk and flirted with Helen’s nineteen year old daughter .

Later Nana called Helen to apologize for her husband and to commiserate about what they should wear to the next function at Libby’s house.   Helen says not to worry sabot it, that all girls flirt.  And of course, Nana remembers how she and Helen flirted with their college professor when they were in school and how, of course, he is the man who Nana ultimately married. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: STEVEN PAGE-Heal Thyself Pt. 1 : Instinct (2016).

This is Steven Page’s second solo album since leaving Barenaked Ladies.  This one features his voice sounding utterly fantastic amid a large variety of styles of music.

“There’s a Melody” opens with a tiny harmonium sound.  It’s a one minute song that has this fascinating lyric:

There’s a melody somewhere inside of me,
I can hear it but can’t get it out of me,
In my head it soaring but when it comes out it is all the same note

Ironically it is sung to a terrific melody and it will be revisited later in the Reprise which builds and builds with full orchestra.

On Page’s previous album he played around with dance sounds and that continues on this record with “The Work at Hand.”  It opens with crazy electronic noises and then shifts to a soaring dance number.   The chorus sounds a bit like Pet Shop Boys (although not in the vocals).

“Here’s What It Takes” is a fast shuffle with prominent trumpets in the melody.  It’s catchy and was the first single.  But I’m more focused on the lyrics again.  For such a peppy song the lyrics are really dark:

An 8-ball of coke / You’re angry and broke / My Mother misspoke / by telling me the truth
Here’s what it takes to believe  / Drink down the Drano ’til the demons all leave
The fridge door was open again / There’s leftover blame / You’re eating your shame / and choking on the truth

What was funny was that I heard this couplet first and thought it was an amusing song before digging deeper:

What we once kept hidden from our parents / Now we keep it hidden from our kids

That’s a great line and it’s even darker with the above verses.

“I Can See My House From Here”  is a funny/dark song about Jesus, or at least a self-identified messiah.

Jesus came to me last night
To tell me everything will be alright
He said, “Thank you for rolling the stone,
but you’re gonna have to go it alone”

Hey, have you heard the Good News?
We’re gonna make you King of the Jew

But it’s also chock full of nods to the Beatles.  Both in the backing vocals (the Hallelujah and Hare Krishna below) but also in unexpected ways

[Hallelujah] Mother Mary
[Heal Thyself] You had me
[Hare Krishna] And no religion
[Hope that helps] So Let It Be

As he sings this section, it plays with the melody of “My Sweet Lord”

And if you can’t then you know it’s a lie
Goodbye my Lord, goodbye my Lord

and he even sings the next line “I really want to…” as if it were part of “My Sweet Lord” before jumping back to the melody of the song.

It end with the guitar melody of The Beatles’ “The Two of Us” and him singing “we’re on our way home.”

The best song around is “Manchild” which features Page’s soaring vocals and terrific self-deprecating lyrics that morph over the song

Darling, you’re talking to a man now / You’re talking to a man, now, child /
Speak slowly, speak slowly
Darling, you’re talking to a manchild / You’re talking to a manchild now /
Speak slowly, speak slowly

But the album is not all big powerful songs, “If That’s Your Way” (“If that’s your way of saying you’re sorry – I don’t mind”) and “Hole In the Moonlight” are both ballads with piano and strings.

“Mama” is a kind of almost reggae romp with some excellent snark in the lyrics.  And “Surprise Surprise” was the lead single and does a great job rhyming

I was feeling shamed / you were feeling stupid
because I knew what was wrong with me / long before you did

“Linda Ronstadt In the 70s” has a harpsichord and a chamber pop feel with an emphasis on pop.  I had no idea of the origin of the song.  It was apparently written because Colin Meloy requested people write songs about Linda Ronstadt.  You can see the original acoustic version here.

“No Song Left to Save Me” ends the disc with the unmistakable bass line of “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” but the song quickly changes tempo and direction with swinging horns and big old catchy Steven Page chorus.

This is an excellent, fun disc and really shows the range that Page is willing to experiment with.  I wish Barenaked Ladies would take more chances like this, too.  But I am especially excited to see Page next month with the Art of Time Ensemble.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “My Holocaust Memoir”

You don’t expect something funny to have a title like this.  Of course once you see that the first line is “Dear Ms Winfrey,” you can expect to not take this seriously,

Greenman begins his letter to Ms Winfrey by saying how much he admires the show, although he doesn’t watch every day).  He says he was watching “Best Life Week ” (is that really the name of segment?) in which guests discussed the challenges they’ve overcome.  He says that he has had some challenges–which he is currently putting into book form.  And he would like her to take a look at them.

It begins: Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: AHI-Tiny Desk Concert #690 (January 16, 2018).

AHI is apparently, inexplicably pronounced “eye.”  He is an Ontario-based singer.  There’s nothing strikingly original about his sound, but his songs are pretty and thoughtful and his voice has a pleasing rough edge.

Bob says,

AHI’s gruff but sweet voice and openly honest words were my gateway to this young Ontario-based singer. AHI says he sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at the end of every set with a sense of hope. It was powerfully moving, without a note that felt clichéd or overly nostalgic. At that moment, I knew he needed to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

With a tasteful band comprised of Frank Carter Rische on electric guitar, Robbie Crowell on bass guitar and Shawn Killaly (a man of a million faces) on drums, AHI put his heart into three songs in just about 11 minutes, all from his debut album We Made It Through The Wreckage, which came out a year ago this week.

“Alive Again” builds slowly, but by the time the chorus comes around and he adds some whoops, the song really moves. I’m quite intrigued at the constant soloing from guitarist Frank Carter Rische.  It’s virtually nonstop and really seems to propel the song along.  It’s a catchy and fun song the way each round seems to make the song bigger and bigger.

About “Closer (From a Distance)” he says, we all have relationships.  Some are good; some are bad and some are just awful.  You may care about someone with your whole heart only to realize that you care about that person more than they care about themselves.  No matter how strong you are your strengths may not be as strong as their weaknesses.  Sometimes the only way to save the relationship is to walk away–“maybe we’ll be closer from a distance.”   This is a really heartbreaking song.  The lyrics are clearly very personal and quite powerful.  And the soloing throughout the song is really quiet and beautiful.

“Ol’ Sweet Day” is bouncy and catchy with a propulsive acoustic guitar and lovely licks on the lead acoustic guitar.  The drums are fun on this song as Killaly plays the wall and uses his elbow to change the sound of the drum at the end of the song.

The burning question that is never addressed is way he is wearing a helmet –motorcycle? horse riding?  It stays on the whole time.  At one point he even seems to “tip” his hat.  How peculiar.

[READ: December 8, 2017] Glorious and or Free

The Beaverton is a satirical news source based in Canada.  It began as a website in 2010 and then added a TV Show in 2016 (now in its second season).  To celebrate 2017, the creators made this book.

They have divided the history of Canada into 13 sections.  As with many satirical history books, you can learn a lot about a country or a time from the kinds of jokes made.  Obviously the joke of each article is fake, but they are all based in something.  Historical figures are accurate and their stereotypes and broadsides certainly give a picture of the person.

Some of the humor is dependent upon knowing at least a little about the topic, but some of the other articles are just broadly funny whether you know anything about it or not.

When we made this book our goal was to transport readers back to grade school to remember what they were taught n Canadian history class.  And so what if your teacher was hungover most of the time?

~30,000 Years of History in About Four Page (3,200,000,000 BCE – 1496)

“What the hell is that?”  –God after forgetting he made beavers. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: BIDINIBAND-The Carleton, Halifax, NS (February 13, 2015).

This is the most current solo show from anybody on the RheostaticsLive webpage.

Bidiniband’s third album came out in 2014 and this show chooses from it pretty heavily.

The show starts (Dave sounds either like he has a bit of a cold or he’s just worn out) with Dave saying “We’re going to start with a song about the cold, because it is.  Fucking snow, eh  Wow.”  “The Grey Wave” has great chord changes in the chorus.  It is a slow folkie song about cold and snow.  I like that he whispers “let’s go” before the buzzy but quiet solo.  The chorus comes out of that fairly rocking (a least for this set).

Dave continues, “I have some news.  Last night I was offered cocaine in the bathroom of the Alehouse.”  (Don, on drums, whispers, “in exchange for what?”).  Dave: “I think the guy just wanted to be my friend.  He was a bit of an asshole.  Cocaine is the one drug I think where when people offer it to you and when you say no, they apologize for having assumed you wanted any.”

Someone else notes: “I like that we’re the rock band from Toronto and we’re the ones shocked by all the drugs everyone is doing.  We were in BC and we were shocked at the big jug of MDMA being passed around.”

“Everyday Superstar” is a rocking, swinging song.  I love that the chorus is “I’m an animal out of control” but it’s kind of slow and mellow and at one point he says “its true.” And there’s this lyric: “When it’s hot, I’m gonna be Bon Scott you be Lita Ford.”  At the end of the song, someone asks, “Does everybody in the house know what bass face is?  You never know when Haddon is going to a picture of you with that face.”  Dave tells a story that Haddon Strong had a subscription to a magazine and it was addressed to Hardon Strong.

Introducing “My First Rock Concert” he says, “this is a song about music.  I bet you think it’s ‘Proud Mary’ but it’s not.  That was done last night.”  He sings it kind of whispering/spoken.   In the middle, Paul plays the riff to “Brown Eyed Girl” while Dave is singing “you’re either a mouse or Steven Page.”

“Take A Wild Ride” is s short song that segues at the same fast tempo into “The List” which is, again, almost spoken.  He throws in some other people who have made the list.  Jian Ghomeshi and Joel Plaskett (he was in Thrush Hermit) and at the end he says, “only kidding about Joel.”

“Big Men Go Fast On The Water” is a great-sounding song–in this version, the guitar riffs between verses sound like Boston.  They played this song last night at “Stolen from a Hockey Card” at the Spats Theater.  Dave was disappointed there were no spats there.  He says, “If I’ve over pattering, just tell me.”

We wrote this song “Bad Really Bad” about the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Three chords and the truth.

“In The Rock Hall” is about the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland from a poem written by Paul Quarrington  Once again he almost whispers, “C’mon Halifax, let’s rock.”   About “Ladies of Montreal,” he says, “I didn’t think there were enough songs in indie rock well, elderly indie rock, independent seniors, about beautiful women… boobs, you know.  It came in a dream.  I had to write it.”  Dave says it is sexist although I don’t exactly know what he’s saying with the French words.

Getting ready to play “The Motherland Part 1,” he asks, “Jerry you brought your flute, did you?  Oh fuck’s sake.  It’s okay. I think I told you last night but we were both pretty hammered.”  “The Fatherland” is “a heavy metal political song…political metal… politometal.”  It totally rocks and at the end Dave says “I don’t understand, the dancing girl left and we’re playing our most uptempo tunes.”  Before they complete the trilogy with “The Motherland Part 2” someone in the band asks, have you got the cocaine?–its pure MDMA.  Don rehashes the story about him throwing up at a party in the closet because of hot knives.  The middle of Part 2 really rocks.

“Last Of The Dead Wrong Things” is quieter for sure but the chorus and backing vocals are great.  Where there’s usually a drum solo there’s a kind of quiet freak out.

He says, “we’re going to do one more” (boo) …well how many more do you deserve?  Seventeen, eh, you have a very inflated view of yourself.”

“We’ll do ‘Fat,’ (a song “by Rheostatics band”), it has similar chord shapes don’t hold that against us.  Did I tell you we were playing this one?”  “Would it matter?” Let’s have a round of applause for Kevin Lacroix on the bass and Don Kerr on the drums.  Paul Linklater on guitar.

“We played with Corb Lund yesterday, from Alberta.  He’s very handsome and very accomplished.  “Really really handsome.”  Kevin: “I made out with him.”  Dave: “I made out with a guy who I thought was Corb but who was really the cleaning guy for the hotel….  Last night on this very stage he intoned, he evoked the name of Washboard Hank Fisher….  You’re not going are you, it’s going to be a good song.”  They have Lots of fun with “The Midnight Ride Of Red Dog Ray”  with over the top backing vocals.  And in the solo, we get Paul Linklater, one more time pickin’ and grinnin.’

Before the next song Dave says, “What are you guys laughing at?  I can see you in the mirror, you know.  This is my favorite club coz I can watch my rock moves, they’re top ranked.”  Don:  “That’s actually Dave’s mirror, he brings it to every club and says that.  It’s embarrassing.”  Dave mentions a famous story (doesn’t know who it’s about) about a heavy metal singer who was hammered and he saw the guy in the mirror and thought he was mocking him.  So he challenged him to a fight.  That’s rock n roll.”

“You got a weak bladder Jerry?  I’ve got a weak bladder, too.  I’ve peed myself twice during this set.”

This is an album by Bidiniband called The Motherland.  It’s a delicious record and I’d like you to buy it.  All of you.  It’s only $10.  Produced in Toronto in a studio  … by professionals.  Trained professional sounds.  Nothing like what you’re hearing tonight.

There’s a great buzzy bass sound on “Desert Island Poem” which is “a funny song about cannibalism.”  Dave gets pretty crazy at the end.

It segues into a wonderful surprise of them playing”Queer.”  And then a terrific version of “I Wanna Go To Yemen” with a fun wild sliding solo.

He wishes everyone a good night and they leave for a few seconds.  “If we take a break we probably won’t play anymore.  But that was break…  We probably should have taken a longer break and milked it more… but we didn’t.”

“Do people who come to lean along the bar are they into the music?”  Kevin: “Those are some of the best people in Halifax…but the creme d la creme starts right here.”

Jerry didn’t find his flute did he?  Dave asks for a hand for the opening act, Communism Music, look them up

The first encore is the hilariously offensive song “Take A Bath Hippie.”   Sample verses:  “This ain’t the 1960s / These are brand new modern times / everyone is equal and everyone is doing fine,”  “Your revolution ended the day Trudeau retired.  A land of Stephen Harper… we got the country we desired.”   He asks, “You guys got hippies out here?  Probably not. You got Buddhists.  That’s just as bad.  They lie around in their robes  eating flowers.  Shaving each other’s heads.  Sacrificing a goat here and there.”

 We’re all getting G&Ts?  Thank you people of the night.  Kevin: “Treating us all equally?  Like my parents.  My parents would bring us all something she wouldn’t bring me a G&T without bringing one to my sister.”  Dave: They were saints.

FYI, tomorrow, there is Hockey Day in Canada–a ton of games on and footage from the concert last night with Theoren Fleury, Rich Aucoin, Buck 65, Miranda Mulholland, and the ever handsome Corb “The Boner” Lund and The Barra MacNeils.  Dave did a short movie about John Brophy, that’s gonna be on.  “Fuck, it’s Saturday… just sit at home and watch hockey.  It’s what we are supposed to do.  If you don’t, Stephen Harper will have your ass.  But I’ll save you because I’m the hockey guardian.  No I’m not, I’m just tired.”

We’ll try to do one last song.  Have we done “Take a Bath Hippie?”  We’ll save it for next time.  I’m trying to not do a typical show closer tune.

Last gig Kevin played with this band he was playing drums.   I guess it didn’t go well because he’s been demoted to bass. (ha ha).  Dave: “You’ve got the best bass player joke about what happened to Gordie Johnson.”  Kevin: “oh no that’s just nasty.”  Dave “You’re right, its for later in the washroom when were doing coke.”

They play a surprising “Stolen Car.”  It’s so weird to hear Dave sing this song (which he wrote)–he whisper sings it (and can’t really hit the notes).  It segues into a folkie
“Legal Age Life -> Do You Wanna Dance -> Legal Age Life” with them singing, “Oh yeah music is fun.  Friends are fun.  Rock n roll is fun.  Sloppy and fun.”  They end with a Johnny Cash line get rhythm when you get the blues.

Who would have guessed that just seven months later Rheostatics would reunite?

[READ: November, December 2017 & January 2018] West End Phoenix

West End Phoenix is a newly created newspaper.  It was inspired by Dave Bidini.

I have loved just about all of the music that Bidini has created (with Rheostatics and Bigdiniband) and I have loved just about all of the books he has written.  So why wouldn’t I love a newspaper created by him?  Well, possibly because it serves a community that I do not live in and have very likely never visited.  That’s right, this is a community newspaper for a community that isn’t even in my country.

And it is terrific.

But why on earth would I want to read it?  Can I really like Bidini that much? Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: DANIIL TRIONOV-Tiny Desk Concert #688 (January 12, 2018).

It has been quite a while since there had been a classical pianist on Tiny Desk.  And man, what a return.  Trionov is just stunning and he makes some of the more complex piano pieces in musical history seem easy.

NPR’s Tom Huizenga has written a splendid blurb which I’m putting here because he covers far more than I could:

When we invited Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov to play a Tiny Desk concert, we rolled out the big guns. In place of the trusty upright, we wedged a 7-foot grand piano behind Bob Boilen’s desk in preparation for the artist who The Times of London called “without question the most astounding pianist of our age.”

That’s a pretty lofty claim, but watch and judge for yourself. His performance here is extraordinary. Still in his 20s, Trifonov seems to have it all: jaw-dropping technique and interpretive skills beyond his age. He’s also a composer — the night before his NPR visit, he played his own knuckle-twisting piano concerto at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C.

But for his Tiny Desk show, Trifonov focused on Chopin, beginning with the mercurial “Fantaisie-Impromptu” in C-sharp minor, a work that mixes sweeping melody, turbulent passion and wistful repose. Hunching close over the keyboard with feline agility, Trifonov’s slender fingers glide effortlessly. He coaxes the instrument to sing tenderly in the slow central section.

Trifonov follows with a pair of short tributes to Chopin by his peers. Robert Schumann’s “Chopin” accentuates the lyrical side of Chopin, filtered through the German composer’s forward-looking harmonies, while Edvard Grieg’s “Hommage à Chopin” offers volatility, lovingly rendered.

The smartly programmed set is capped with more Chopin, but with a nod to Mozart: the finale from a set of variations based on an aria from Don Giovanni. It gives Trifonov a chance to display his lightness of touch, plus a few pianistic fireworks. Smiling, he treats the tricky filigreed runs and hand crossings as if it were a child’s game. Look closely and you can see the piano shake.

So Trifonov plays four pieces.  The middle two are quite short.

Chopin: “Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66”  This is one of my favorite pieces.  The fast part is jaw-dropping and the slow part is achingly beautiful.  His fingers flow over the keys like he was simply petting a cat.

Schumann: “Chopin. Agitato” (from Carnaval)  Trifonov says Schumann wrote a tribute to Chopin called “Chopin,” which was a portrait of the man.   This is a quiet, delicate piece and it is so much fun to watch his hands float seemingly weightless above the keys.

Grieg: “Hommage à Chopin, Op. 73, No. 5”  This tribute focuses on the more stormy and turbulent aspects of Chopin’s faster work.  It slowly builds in intensity with very fast finger work.

Chopin: “Variations on Là ci darem la mano‘ (from Mozart’s Don Giovanni) – Coda. Alla Polacca”  Chopin wrote a variation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  This is the finale. There are some amazingly intense runs up and down the keys in this piece as well. And again a lot more bouncing around with his left hand to high notes.

This was a tremendous Tiny Desk Concert.

[READ: December 13, 2017] Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly Battle

I really enjoyed this third Crafty Cat book.  Anya continues to be an unreasonable character (and I want someone to stand up to her!), but her awfulness allows for some good humor and good setups in this book.

The book opens with Crafty Cat saving an ant after dusting it with glitter (the ant now feels pretty special).  But then it’s soon time for Birdie to get to school.  She tells us that they are picking roles for the class play about butterflies.  Everyone is supposed to pick a bug they want to be:  “Be creative in your choices, we don’t need ten ladybugs.”  Birdie confesses that she is going to be the butterfly she has even crafted a small model of the wings that she can make.

Then Evan shows up.  He rescues a glittery ant from the sidewalk (that was amusing)  and then reveals that he is going to be an ant for the play.  When Birdie says she’s going to be the butterfly, Evan has reservations.  When they enter the school we see 10 students all wanting to be the butterfly–especially Anya.  And image HER surprise when other kids want to be the butterfly–which is her role, after all. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: ARTISTS FROM THE “TAKE ME TO THE RIVER” TOUR-Tiny Desk Concert #689 (January 15, 2018).

This is a touring band playing classic soul.  But I found the modern updates to be unpleasant and almost undermined the tone of the show.  The blurb says:

“Take Me To The River” is a 1974 song from the legendary Al Green and guitarist “Teenie” Hodges. And though it wasn’t a big hit at the time, this song’s mix of religion and desire has become part of pop music’s canon.

Here at the Tiny Desk, some of the original players of this deep southern soul have come together to honor and update this tradition. It’s a celebration of Memphis soul old and new, with 13 musicians wedged behind the desk.

Some of those players of the old include singers Bobby Rush and William Bell; on the Hammond organ, Rev. Charles Hodges and LeRoy Hodges on bass. But it’s what’s new that makes this more than a look back – the addition of southern rappers Frayser Boy and Al Kapone – that truly puts this project on new musical ground.

But it is this update–Frayser Boy and Al Kapone who really ruined this show for me.

I’m not suggesting that the original lyrics to “Push and Pull” are profound.  They are not, but Frayser Bay’s rap is just up front and graphic whereas the original song is more understated (as much as something called “Push and Pull” can be).  Bobby Rush is a great singer and he looks spectacular in his sequined jacket.  Rush has a nice harmonica solo too.  That rap just seemed to come in and mess the whole thing up.

“I Forget To Be Your Lover” suffers from the same problem.  William Bell has a great sound–a cool rough voice.  And the original has this conceit: “I forgot to be your lover and I’m sorry.”  Al Kapone  comes in with a fairly explicit and hardly apologetic rap.  And what’s even stranger is that Rev. Charles Hodges who plays an outstanding organ throughout the show (I loved seeing the organ’s spinning fan that makes the great organ sound), plays really sour notes while Kapone is rapping.  Each verse has this weird nauseating sound. In every other section it sounds amazing, but during the rap it’s almost like he’s commenting on the rudeness of the rap.  The contrast is even more stark when Bell takes back the song mid way through and holds a high falsetto note for about 10 seconds–which really shows his power and range.

The backing vocals by Ashton Riker and Evvie McKinney are a nice touch.   Then on “Take Me to the River” Riker shares lead duties with Bobby Rush and they sound great together.  Riker hits some powerful high notes while Rush keeps it all together.  This is the song that really sells the show.  But look at how uncomfortable Frayser Boy looks during this song.

The rest of the band sounds just fine, playing quiet and understated:  LeRoy Hodges (bass), Edward Cleveland (drums), Andrew Saino (guitar), Jamel Mitchell (sax), Scott Thompson (trumpet), Martin Shore (percussion).

[READ: November 10, 2017] The Talented Ribkins

I saw Ladee Hubbard on Seth Meyers.  She was really interesting (and went to Princeton) and her book sounded fascinating.

On the surface the book is fairly simple, even fairly uneventful. Johnny Ribkin has to come up with $100,000 in a week because he has run afoul of a powerful man.

A few things separate this from similar books.  The first is that over the course of his life, Johnny buried various amounts of money and possessions in random places around the state of Florida.  He should be able to find the money fairly easily.  The reason why he buried all of this is part of the story.

Another thing is that he and his siblings all have special powers.  Not exactly superpowers, but certainly special powers.  And while these powers don’t exactly come into play in the quest, they are ever-present and unavoidable.

So what the heck is going on here? Continue Reading »