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Archive for the ‘Stephen Dixon’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Ultrasound Showbar [2nd GSMW Night 1] (February 25, 1994).

The next four shows are four of the five nights from the Second Annual Green Sprouts Music Week held at Ultrasound Showbar Feb 25-Mar 1, 1994. Setlists for all shows were fairly similar in content focusing mainly on the 25-30 songs that they would use for consideration on Introducing Happiness which began recording the following week. This first night featured 24 songs never previously released and a few that were played live very very rarely including Joey III, Floating, Fluffy, Green Xmas (which would appear years later as The Music Room on Harmelodia) and Symphony. Some of the audio on the beginning of each side of the tape is a bit warped and thus has a bit of a flange like effect for a few minutes.

That flange is very noticeable on “Jesus Was Once a Teenager, Too,” but it all settles down for “Tim Vesely going electric” on “Introducing Happiness.”  Bidini jokes that this is going to be their “up with life” album.

Introducing “One More Colour,” Dave Clark says, “Our next diddy is by a friend of ours who we last played with in Guelph.”  They follow it up with “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” and “Full Moon Over Russia.”  After this song they ask the audience which chord they like better during one section–the minor chord wins.

They introduce “Fishtailin'” as a song about “love and life and living and loving.”  But an even better introduction comes for “Earth/Monstrous Hummingbirds” in which Bidini says it’s a song about the missing link.  Mankind was just walking around on earth drooling a lot.  And then all of a sudden they were up flying kites and making hotcakes and colorizing films and making Top 40 Radio.  Some say aliens impregnated cro-magnon man.  Dave thinks they came down for just two days and made everything happen.

Before the next song, Clark asks, “Dave what’s the best time of the year?”  Bidini says “Spring time: spring training starts.  Clark says I find around September 23rd (Bidini says, that’s coz baseball’s ending) because it’s 21 degrees–my favorite temperature.  Bidini: “yeah well spring’s better.”

There’s some banter about rehearsal space.  Clark says the band that used the microphones after them left them smelling like cheese.  Tim: “and by coincidence the band is called “Cheesemike.”  Then Clark tells a story about them being on Lunch TV, with his friends calling up saying “hey man, what are you doing on lunch TV,” and I said, “what the fuck are you doing watching it?”  Martin is annoyed because he stepped all over his introduction to a sweet version of “Take Me in Your Hand.”

They ask if there are any complaints so far.  Has everyone who has written the band gotten a reply?  Then Tim requests that Martin sing a verse of “Fluffy” which has only been played one other time on the live bootlegs (back in 1990).  The verse about champagne  Champagne?  Martinis, sorry.  It’s incredible falsetto, but Martin stops the song and says it sucked.  The last time they did that song a dark cloud came over Saskatoon.  Martin gives himself credit for writing one of the sickest songs ever.

Then they do one of the “not sickest” songs ever written: “Claire.”  Whale Music the film is locking down on Tuesday.  Clark jokes “Lee Majors is in it!”–he isn’t.  And then a great version of “Me and Stupid” before they take a break.

Paul McCloud “and his two little clouds” played in between sets.

They come back and At the conclusion of “The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos” Dave says that song is where Jethro Tull meets Rush.  Someone shouts, “What corner?”  Dave replies, “The corner of Bloor and Symington” (voted as the worst intersection in 2012).  At the end of “In This Town” Clark asks “who’s got Olympic fever? I do!”  Bidini asks, “Who’s your favorite Olympian?” Clark mentions a sportscaster….  Bidini says, “Dave hasn’t watched one second of the Olympics clearly, or he would have said Myriam Bédard.

Then there’s “Floating” a song I don’t know at all.  It’s a slow building Bidini song with a bouncy refrain of “up in the air” and a really noisy middle section.  After that he asks, “Didn’t everyone on the Finnish national hockey team look like Great Bob Scott?”  Clark says, “It’s funny you should mention that.  If I was gonna write a song for anybody it would be for Kevin Hearn, my favorite clown.  Of course none of you know who Kevin Hearn is… (ironic that they opened for BNL the previous year)

We had an idea one night that we would do a sequel to Melville–continue the stories from the album.  They only have two, this one “Onielly’s Strange Dream: is one of them.  It starts out very pretty with a recognizable guitar riff, but midway through the tape must change or something, it gets really loud and flangy.  It’s okay, it’s virtually impossible to forget the words on record.  It’s virtually impossible to forget the words “chicken Jimmy kept em alive,” To which Martin mumbles, “yea well he did.  It’s not funny.”

“Symphony” is also new to me.  On the song Bidini plays drums.  Martin stops the songs after a few verses and Dave complains that Clark was so jealous that Dave was playing drums that he forgot to turn the snare on.  And then Martin says it was way fast.  There’s some cool riffs and a line about no one takes solos in this band.  I’d like to hear that one more clearly.

Before the next song, Bidini says, I don’t play guitars on this, thank the lord.  Then there’s some drummer jokes:

Drums is a promotion actually–a drummer told me that.
Clark yells, “If Laura Lynn’s in the audience shame on you for cutting on drummers–they’re the foundation of any band.”
Bidini: “What did she say? How do you know a drummer’s at your door?  The knock speeds up and gets louder.  Coz if she did, that would be okay.”
Clark says, “Of course the most schooled musicians sit behind the tubs.”

The slow and country sounding “Row,” gets the dramatic introduction, “This is a song… Tim wrote.”  Then comes a rocking “Triangles on the Wall.”

Before “Bread, Meat, Peas and Rice,” Clark asks, “Just acoustic guitar and voice?”  But no, “Full band.” Clark jokes, “We’ll attempt a song we don’t know.”  At the end Clark asks, “Was that cannibolically inspired?”  “Alomar” is always a fun treat especially when followed by a wild and raucous “PROD.”  At the end Tim asks, “I wonder if Steven Page had a song, “We are the people’s republic of Steven Page, how would it go?”  And they give it a shot.

They then launch into the lurching “The Royal Albert” the other song that’ s a sequel (“Joey Part II”) which ends with the guys all singing what sounds like “soooey.”  After this song, Dave says, “We’ll take some requests because we’ve run out of new material. [Much shouting] Okay we’ll do them all.”

They start with “Record Body Count” which ends with a fugue vocal of everyone singing “Joey stepped up on a block of ice,” which is pretty cool.  It’s followed by the unrecorded “Joey III” (all three parts together, just out of sequence).  “Joey III” contains the “do you believe it” refrain from “Christopher,” which is a little odd, but which works.  This segues into a slow “Self Serve Gas Station” that eventually rocks out.

They end the set with some covers: a short, sloppy but fun version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” (sung by Martin) and a pretty rocking version of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” (sung by Dave) which segues into a blast of “RDA.”

Despite the slightly muddy sound, this is a great set, especially if you like Introducing Happiness.

[READ: January 18, 2017]: “In This One”

I don’t really have a sense for what Stephen Dixon is doing in his writings.  He really likes to play with convention as a way of telling a fairly conventional story.

So, in this one, Dixon uses the phrase “in this one” in nearly every sentence.

It starts out “In this one he’ll have only one daughter and no other child.  In this one he’ll be divorced and his ex-wife will live in California…”

The character being discussed is a writer, “in this one he’ll have finished a novel a month or so ago after working on it for more than three years.”

In this one, his daughter tries to set him up with a coworker but neither finds the other interesting.

It sounds like Dixon is trying to write a new story–trying to create a character based on other characters.  But as the story proceeds it seems like this story is far more self-reflective.  In this one he meets a woman and he’s off to bed with her. But he warns her that it has been a long time and he hopes he’s able to get started. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE GUNN-Tiny Desk Concert #299 (August 31, 2013).

Steve Gunn is a fascinating guitar player:

his work mostly stems from a bushy, overgrown definition of what we often call “Americana,” with a healthy understanding of the La Monte Young drone.

Grateful Dead and J.J. Cale certainly reside in the rubber-band bounce of “Old Strange,” a song that keeps the groove mellow, but will suddenly pop with water-drop elasticity. “The Lurker” comes from a much longer solo guitar version that originally sounded like one of Roy Harper’s acoustic epics, but with Gunn’s trio, it becomes a back-porch barn-burner.

For this concert, Gunn and his band play two 9-minutes songs.  They center around his guitar work which yes, has a drone, but the main focus are the Americana riffs that he plays with precision.

“Old Strange” opens with a lengthy guitar passage that shifts after 2 and a half minutes to a slow folky kind of style.  The song seems like it will be an instrumental but 3 and a half minutes in he begins singing. His voice is deep and he sings a kind of narrative story.  It’s quite mesmerizing.   “The Lurker” is a slower, more mellow jam.

[READ: September 3, 2016]: Beatrice

I have read a couple of books from Dixon through McSweeney’s.  I didn’t know much about him then and I still don’t, but I recalled liking his stuff pretty well.  And this book was short so I thought I’d give it a look.

This book is told in a fascinating style–a kind of stream of consciousness in the mind of the main character, but through really close third person.

The book details the encounter of the main character Professor Philip Seidel (there’s a joke about this name, as Seidel means mug) and a woman named Beatrice.  Beatrice was a student of his some 25 years earlier.  She has stopped at his house to deliver some food in condolence for the recent passing of his wife.  She knows about this because she is now a professor where he taught her, although he had retired a few years back.

She brought some food and also wanted to tell him that he was her favorite teacher back then.  She had studied German and wasn’t allowed to take fiction courses until she completed her requirements.  She loved his teaching method and loved how encouraging he had always been.  She has clearly been keeping tabs on him–she has read some interviews he gave–and she definitely knows a lot about his life.

When she leaves he briefly wonders if maybe she’s interested in him now that the are older.  But he puts that out of his mind. (more…)

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harp jan SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-CBC Studios (1999, 2000 or 2001).

cbcrheoThis is a hard event to document.  According to the Rheostatics Live website, this show was broadcast on Sonic 102.9 in 2000, but it appears to be a rebroadcast of a live show that the band recorded at CBC2 Studios in 1999 or, possibly, even in 2001 (according to the link to the video below which states Rheostatics CBC In Session October 26 2001 Just Concerts. Vancouver BC Studio 2, although that may just be a cut up version of the audio–so confusing!).

Whatever the case, the sound of this in-studio live show is tremendous.  It is one of the few instances where you can totally hear Dave’s acoustic guitar in the mix.

Kevin Hearn is there too, so they play a number of songs that they might not be able to without him.  And Michael Philip Wojewoda is on drums. (This complicates my understanding of the recording too, since Don left in 2001, but MPW often played with them anyway).

The audio version contains eight songs and two interview segments.  The interviews are funny (of course) and informative (although Tim sounds totally high), but it’s the music which is the highlight.

They play “Wieners and Beans,” “Martin’s Waltz (Blue Hysteria)” and “Kevin’s Waltz” form Music Inspired by the Group of 7.  They play “Easy to Be with You” “Monkeybird” and “Song of the Garden” from Harmelodia and then “Stolen Car” and “P.I.N.” as “new” songs.

The video below (which is the best video version of these recordings I’ve seen) has “Song Of The Garden” “Easy To Be With You” “Martin’s Waltz (Blue Hysteria)” “Stolen Car” and “Wieners and Beans.”  No word where the other three songs went.  But I love watching the video to see the way Martin makes the crazy sounds out of that little Steinberger guitar.

This is the last Rheostatics show I have for 2000.   I’ll be resuming with some shows from 2001, including Don Kerr’s final shows in a few months.

[READ: March 9, 2015]: “Two Parts”

I have only read two things by Dixon–the two McSweeney’s-released books I and End of I.

This story is a reflective look at regrets and decisions. It is told, as you might guess, in two parts.  He asks if he should start with his father or with Lotte.  He decides to start with his father.  He says he was thinking about something and he decided to talk at Abby about it. This framing device is used throughout the story.

The story about his father is from back when he was about ten and his father was about 51.  His father had always been in good health, but he had a temper.  Especially when it came to the narrator.  And while the father never hit the narrator with his hand, he did whack him with a rolled up newspaper. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GO! TEAM-Proof of Youth (2007).

I reviewed the first Go! Team record a few months ago. I really enjoyed it but I wondered what they could do for a follow up. And, indeed, I was right to wonder. This album follows very similarly to their first record. They use a similar style of cheerleader/chanting over fuzzed out dance songs. About half the songs are just as catchy as on the first record, but overall, the whole album just doesn’t live up to the first one.

Part of the problem is the guest rappers they add, and there are quite a few. On the first song. “Grip Like a Vice,” Lisa Lee does a rap that I’m still not convinced isnt’ lifted wholly from a 1980s rap album. The chorus ends: “Party people in the place, get ready for this To you! So what you wanna do? So do you wanna rock the house and turn this mutha out?” Really? That’s the best you can do in 2008? How many times have we heard this couplet before? I mean, heck, I understand the whole sound is retro but COME ON!

The second strike against the record is the use of Chuck D. Now, Chuck D is, simply, the greatest voice in rap. Or speaking, or anything. He has a commanding presence, he has great rhythm, and he really made Public Enemy a force to be reckoned with. So, how could I complain about his use on this record? Well, because his voice is completely lost in the cacophony. You can barely hear him. What a waste of talent! I’ve listened to the song about 6 times and I’m still not sure what he’s saying. Public Enemy told us to Bring the Noise, but you could always hear Chuck telling us to bring it. Gah!

So, anyhow, the rest of the album contains this cacophonous mindset; however, because the cheerleader singers are high pitched girls, you can hear them over the static, the bass and the general sense of noise. You can’t help but hear that everything sounds kind of staticky. I know it’s done on purpose, but it just sounds like there’s a white noise machine on in the background.

(more…)

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i.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE FUTUREHEADS-News and Tributes (2006).

news.jpgI enjoyed the first Futureheads album very much when it came out, but I balked at getting this sophomore release because they were part of that whole new angular-rock wave, and I didn’t want to stay caught up in the hype. Well, I relented because I’d continued to hear good things about this record, and I’m glad I did.

For me, The Futureheads sound like The Jam, mixed with a little Gang of Four edginess in their chords, and most intriguing of all, a bit of Queen in their vocals. This odd mix is totally up front in the second song, “Cope”. A choppy guitar, a voice that sounds like the Paul Weller and then at the end of the first line, all the guys sing the word Go! in a 4 part harmony that sounds partially machine-like; I almost thought it was a ship’s whistle when I first heard it. And, yet on subsequent listens it’s just four guys singing slightly off notes–note screaming at all, I can’t even really imagine how they do it– and it sounds great! I don’t know how they could duplicate that sound–which is so beautiful and unnerving at the same time–live, frankly.

And each song has little idiosyncrasies like that that really make this record fun to listen to. I think the reason I didn’t hear The Jam as an influence right away is because to me The Jam are smoooooth. (more…)

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