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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

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.” (more…)

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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.” (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ZAKI IBRAHIM-Live at Massey Hall (March 27, 2015).

I had never heard of Zaki Ibrahim before this and from the pictures, I rather thought she would be kind of an opera singer.  She is pretty much everything but.

Born in British Columbia to a father from South Africa and a mother from the United Kingdom, Ibrahim spent her childhood as what she describes as a “citizen of the world”, living at different times in Canada.

This show starts out differently than the others–no interview just her getting her make up done and warming up with her backing singers.

Then she comes out to the theater and sings…in French!  I believe it is the song “Lost in You” (for some reason they don’t show the names of the songs for her).  It’s moody and quite lovely.  After some vocals scatting big drums propel the song half way through to really rock out.

She talks about feeling vulnerable on stage and how important that is for the energy exchange between fans and artist.

The next song is on piano with quiet drums, the singers repeat “I Just Need You Here.”

After this song, the band plays around with some sounds, manipulating it with gadgets and slides and whatnot and there are some vocals by Waleed Abdulhamid.  While that is going on, she comes out in  new outfit and as “Something in the Water” starts she is playing the theremin! and an electronic drum pad.  They seem to be singing “We Fly Home.”

It’s great that these Massey Hall shows have picked so many good artists to showcase.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Anyone Can Milk a Rubber Glove”

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.

Jeanette Winterson describes milking a rubber glove: fill it with warm water, put your index finger and thumb two inches above the teat. The other three fingers squeeze the udder firmly but placidly–it’s like playing the recorder.

Why would anyone do this?  Well she did it for training how to milk a goat.  She was nine or ten when they got the goat.  The goat was named Gracie Fields (after a war-time music hall star).  The war had been over for twenty-five years but her parents still talked about it.

Her mother was deeply religious and read the Bible front to back and started over again.  S also liked singing and believed the goat milked better is you sang to her.  The songs had to be the right kind of downer hymns because goats don’t like to be too cheerful. Unlike sheep, goats are thinkers, but goats are going to Hell while sheep are going with Jesus.

Jeanette’s first time milking Gracie didn’t go very well.  Even with her mother singing “Have You Any Room for Jesus?”

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SOUNDTRACKSHAD-Live at Massey Hall (March 27, 2015).

Shad is a terrific Canadian rapper.  His beats rock, his lyrics are great and he has some really interesting samples.

As this episode starts, he talks about Massey Hall as having a value in tradition.  When people come here they are excited.  It’s fun for his fans to come to this place to see Shad like they’ve seen him before but its different–a bit more excitement.  It’s like being with your friends you usually hang out with but now you’re going to the semi-formal and it makes it more memorable

The show opens with a trumpet (Tom Moffett) and bass (Ian Koiter).  As Shad walks out on stage, the drummer (Matthew Johnston) plays the cymbals to loud fanfare and Shad hypes the crowd.  The violin (Andrew Forder) swells, the turntable scratches and the melody starts for “Compromise.”  There’s so many great lines in this song:

Your hearts warm, mine’s on fire and I’m antsy
I know it’s so cliche but I’m angry
That some can’t eat, meanwhile I’m letting a damn feast
Of pastas and canned meats, rot in my pantry
Like, Lord please, can we speak on this frankly?
Like, God why you letting this happen? Amen
He answered, “Son, I’m asking you the same thing
Cause you’re supposed to be my servants out there working
Like you’re my hands reaching out to those that’s hurting
You don’t have long on this Earth and
I hope you won’t compromise, I said I hope you won’t compromise”

It ends with some cool organ sounds and then a sample from “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” (which Shad calls some “feel good music”).  “Rose Garden” has more great lyrics and the cycling sample of “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden.”

I love that so many rap songs (not just Shad’s) have pop culture references that make the songs incredibly dated.  But if you knew the song when it was relevant you don’t mind

“Stylin” has a great funky bass line and more terrific lyrics

Please, I’m ahead of my time, wait, [scratch] now I’m ahead of the times
Sped up ahead of the beat, speaking of time whenever I head to the meet
I’m always ahead of the heat, head of my class egg head with glasses
Leaving these heads with a classic, now let me just head to the back
With my head, I’m a nap for a bit

and then this ‘ with help from rapper Saukrates

See I got fans that say “Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you, ”
Well I hate that, but I like you at least I like that you
Like me so I won’t spite you, it’s not your fault you’re a white dude
Likes white music I like too, just don’t be surprised by my IQ
Please, it’s like back in high school they said “highbrow”
I said, “hi who?” That Shakespeare, that’s a haiku
I like the high road so I was like dude that’s basic
That’s like crude but you’re old placed to my iTunes
Use your common sense, matter fact use Common Sense
For that matter use Ice Cube, don’t think that we nice too
Cus we don’t look like you, cus we don’t know how to tie ties
And our grandparents weren’t tycoons?

The next song (“Progress: Part 1”) starts like an improvised spoken word.  He says that he and his friends were listening to a song on the radio and he started riffing:

Bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove a block to that shop with the liquor inside
Singing “Gin and Juice”, drinking whiskey and rye
Thinking “This’ll be the day that I…”

His says his full name is Shadrach Kabango and he wrote a song called “A Good Name” to celebrate it.  This was the first song I’d heard by him and I really liked it back then.  It sounds great live with the band behind him.

But my favorite song of the night is “We Myself and I” from the same album TSOL.  The guitar riff (Tom Ionescu) is simple but totally rocking and the drums are completely intense.  There’s some great turntabling “T Lo (Terence Lo) on the decks.”

The show ends with the less rocking “Remember to Remember,” a thoughtful song with synths from Max Zipursky.

This is a great show.  It’s amazing how much rappers come to life with a live band.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Finding Yourself in Film”

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 comparisons and contrasts of the stories is really interesting.

In this story, Kushner says she relates her parents’ life (and her own) to the movie The Leather Boys.  It came out in 1964, her parents saw it in 1965, before she was born.

When she was a kid, her father rode a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle like the Rockers in the movie.  Her dad was no Rocker, but he liked the bar featured in the film the Ace Cafe.  (where most people rode Triumpshs, BSAs and Nortons.

In the movie, two bikers meet at the Ace.  Pete is an eccentric lone wolf and Reg is in an unhappy teenage marriage to Dot.  Peter tells Reg to leave her.  Dot tries to keep him from leaving her by claiming she is pregnant. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JUANES AND MON LAFERTE-Tiny Desk Concert #746 (May 23, 2018).

Juanes did a solo Tiny Desk Concert back in 2011.  Amusingly, seven years ago the blurb said: The blurb says that “he usually plays arenas and large venues, so it’s a treat to see him up close like this,” (see the third quoted paragraph below).

Colombian pop star Juanes and Chilean singer Mon Laferte recently wrapped up a sold-out tour of the United States, which (lucky for us) included a stop at the Tiny Desk.

Laferte began the concert solo with the torch song “Pa’ Dónde Se Fue” (Where Did You Go?). She sang the break-up story with a smirk that belied the heartache hiding in her poignant lyrics. Then… Juanes joined her to perform the duo’s sultry single, “Amárrame” (Tie Me Up).

It’s rare to see Juanes in such an intimate setting. After almost two decades of performing solo, the Latin pop star is more of a stadium and arena kind of guy. It’s a treat to hear his voice unencumbered by loud speakers or crowd noise, and to see his facial expressions as he sings lyrics that many of us know by heart. This marked a return to the intimacy that fueled his earliest days and that’s still present in the personal lyrics that have sold millions of records.

That intimacy was heightened by the presence of Laferte. The duo performed a PG-13 version of “Amárrame,” a passionate pop song with lyrics reminiscent of 50 Shades Of Grey. You can sense an obvious chemistry between the two during that song, as well as on the Juanes classic “Fotografia” (which originally featured Nelly Furtado).

Juanes closed out the concert solo with a stripped-down version of “Es Tarde” from his last album, Mis Planes Son AmarteThe performance demonstrates why Juanes and Laferte’s duet tour sold out across the U.S. this year. There is a magic here that makes for repeated viewing. It’s that much fun to watch.

SET LIST

  • “Pa’ Dónde Se Fue” (Where Did You Go?) by Mon Laferte. She sings and plays guitar and has a beautiful, powerful voice.
  • “Amárrame {Tie Me Up} [feat. Juanes]” by Mon Laferte.  An additional guitarist plays the cool funky riff while Mon Laferte sings (and rolls her r’s beautifully).  Juanes sings (and makes some asides, “Mon Dios!”) the (beautiful, soaring) chorus and alternating verses.  They sound fantastic together, with his voice being particularly sultry and steamy.
  • “Fotografía [feat. Mon Laferte]” by Juanes.  This is a sweet ballad, with again both singers playing off of each other and joking with each other (there’s a phone gag that is pretty funny).  It’s delightful.  And their voices meld perfectly once again.
  • “Es Tarde” by Juanes.  It’s just him singing on this one (with the guitarist on accompaniment).  His voice has a slight gravel to it but is mostly smooth and delightful.  The middle of the song has a kind of whispered spoken word.  It’s quite obvious why he is a megastar.

[READ: January 22, 2017] “The End of the End of the World”

This is an essay about birding in the Antarctic and the death of Franzen’s Uncle Walt.  Both of these stories were fascinating.

Two year earlier, Franzen’s Uncle Walt died and left hims $78,000.  Wow.  (My uncle left me a pitchfork and sheep shears).  He wasn’t expecting it, so he decided to do something special with it in honor of his Uncle.  He had been planning a big vacation with his longtime girlfriend, so this seemed like the thing to us it for.  When he suggested a deluxe cruise to Antarctica, she was puzzled but agreed.

After booking the cruise, he was filled with reservations, and so was she.  Her concerns were more serious–an ailing parent–and his were just nerves.

He intersperses this trip with memories of his Uncle.  Like in August of 1976 when he found out that Walt’s daughter had died in a car crash.  Walt and his wife Irma were his godparents, although his mother couldn’t stand Irma (Franzen’s father’s sister).  She said that Irma had been spoiled at the expense of his father.  Walt was far more likable anyhow. (more…)

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