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SOUNDTRACKTHE WOODEN SKY-Live at Massey Hall (June 23, 2017).

I don’t know this band at all.  I’m fascinated that he lead singer Gavin Gardiner and the keyboardist Simon Walker have the same haircut and glasses but are not related.  The band has a kind of folk-rock vibe.  Nothing really stands out about them to me, but I did enjoy the songs while they were playing them.

For The Wooden Sky, getting to Massey Hall always seemed unreachable.  But they say that getting here you can feel the history and see that the place opened in 1894.  Its pretty surreal.  Just looking out on stage you can feel–holy shit, this is cool.

“Life is Pain, Pain is Beauty” is a six-minute song that opens with a nifty guitar riff.  The keys and violins act as a kind of drone underneath.  The middle has a cool rollicking section with big drums and groovy keyboard solo.  There’s a nice jam element to the song, too with Jason Haberman on bass.

Gardiner has a kind of drawl or something.  His delivery is unique without being especially noteworthy.  On some of the later songs he puts on a strange vibrato that I find a bit unsettling.

“Our Hearts Were Young” has a cool violin part that runs through the song.  The backing vocals during the chorus are amazingly catchy.

It’s weird that they interrupt this song to talk about them making their record.  They miss a verse and a solo of the song to talk about them recording in their own studio.

He introduces “Deadhorse Creek” by saying that his parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary in a couple of days so this if or them.  It’s about living and growing up in Manitoba.

This song is also interrupted so they can talk more about working in the studio, how they recorded this song three different times.

There a wild harmonica solo from Gardiner mid song.

He invites his best friend Andrew Wyatt to the stage to play banjo–you know the passion he brings to the stage.  HE is listed as a member of the band, so this is a weird moment with him on stage.  They play “The Wooden Sky,” a mellows darker song where Gardiner introduces that vibrato singing. There’s a more mellow harmonica solo.

“Swimming in Strange Waters” is the most fun song. It rocks with some wild singing by the end.

“Angelina” ends the show quietly with Gardiner singing solo with acoustic guitar.  He says it is dedicated to his friend Aaron who passed away in 2010.  The rest of the band gathers around behind him as he plays.  Midway through the song Edwin Huzinga introduces a fiddle melody and Andrew Kekewich plays a kick drum as the song builds.   They all gather round to sing backing vocals.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “Question 62”

This short story has two plots running parallel.  It involves two sisters and wild cats.

How’s this for an opening line:

She was out in the flower bed, crushing snails–and more on them later–when she happened to glance up into the burning eyes of an optical illusion.

Until recently Mae had lived with her sister Anita in Waunakee, Wisconsin.  She now lived in Southern California where it never rained, except that it had been raining all week.  The snails loved this rain and were destroying her garden.  Which is why she was destroying them–despite being a vegetarian and wishing no harm to come to animals, really.  She and Anita made a vow to become vegetarian in junior high school.

But it was while she was crushing snails that she looked up and saw…could it be?  A tiger? She was startled, obviously.  She quietly cried for her husband (he was asleep inside). The tiger didn’t seem aggressive, it just seemed inquisitive at the sound of her voice. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKAMELIA CURRAN-Live at Massey Hall (April 29, 2016).

I knew of Amelia Curran but I didn’t know her work before this show.

She says that growing up in Newfoundland it’s all about original music and the oral tradition and story discovering.  She loves to play at the pub back home.

But she continues that when you move into a more professional scene–recording your first album–you also become a Canadian musician, which is an extra thing that happens later.  You look to Neil Young and Joni and Massey Hall.  You come from a musical place like Newfoundland and then coming to Canada and “arriving.”

She plays great folkie songs.  Lyrically her songs are rich, but I find the drums to be quiet compelling on most of the songs.  There;s nothing flashy, but I really like the way the drums are somewhat unconventional or rhythmically interesting, like on “Song on the Radio.”

She is also quite sweet as she says, “Well thanks, oh golly.”

After “Blackbird on Fire” she says “the teenage me on the inside is really freaking out.”

Before “The Reverie,” she says “I’d like to play you a love song and to introduce you to this handsome fellow on the electric guitar Dean Drouillard.”

Before the nest song, “The Modern Man: she says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know if you know, but this handsome lad on the bass guitar has the best hair in the business.  This is Devon Henderson”

And before “The Mistress” (which is probably her biggest hit), she says “I know it’s hard to believe but there’s even more handsome up here.  This man behind me on the drums is Joshua Van Tassel.”  This song is more jagged and sharp than the others.  It’s a darker, more pointed song and it’s really great.

“Devils” is a slower, moodier song, with snaky electric guitar leads.  Next up is “Time” which is  a beautiful song that’s just her on the acoustic guitar.  It’s quite different from the other songs, much more stark.

For the final song, “Somebody Somewhere,” she says, “Here’s a happy-sounding song I wrote about being depressed.”  This song has more great drums and some cool guitar sounds that change on each verse, including a great buzzy sound during the second verse.

[READ: June 18, 2018] “Omakase”

Even though I love sushi, I had never heard of the titular “omakase” which is a meal consisting of dishes selected by the chef, typically with suggested wine pairings.  And frankly it’s something I’d likely never do (if I was paying for it).

This is the story of a couple who’d met online two years ago.  Three months ago they had moved in together.  They both liked sushi and omakase–they liked the element of surprise.   It also worked for their personalities–she second guessed herself too much and he liked to go with the flow.

They went to a tiny room with a sushi bar and cash register.  The woman (their names are never given) imagined it could fit no more than six people.  How had he even heard of it?  There was a young waitress and old sushi chef who ignored them longer than she imagined they would.

The story leaves the meal from time to time. The first time is for aside about New York City trains.  How she has not gotten used to the subway and the delays.  Tonight’s delay was because of someone jumping in front of the tracks.  In Boston people rarely did that, “probably because the trains came so infrequently, there were quicker ways to die.” (more…)

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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.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: May 21, 2018] Andrew W.K. 

When Andrew W.K. first came on the scene, I enjoyed what I thought of as his dopey party music.  It seemed a little one note, but it was sure fun.

Then I learned more and more about the guy and decided I really liked him, even if I didn’t get into any more of his music.

Then he put out a record of piano music (he is a long-trained pianist)  It was all instrumental and improvised and he did a Tiny Desk Concert piano improv (which was interesting if not a little disappointing).

Then some kind of strange legal things happened and he stopped making music (more or less) and did motivational speaking and went into TV.  He made the terrific show Destroy Build Destroy and my kids became fans of him (although not his music). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN AUERBACH-Tiny Desk Concert #726 (April 4, 2018).

Everybody loves Dan Auerbach, but I’m just lukewarm on him.  I could never get into The Black Keys and the Arcs were okay.  I will say that I absolutely love the final song they play here today and didn’t realize it was him.  But I think I dislike the style of music he makes not the quality of the songs.

Dan brings his Easy Eye Sound Revue to the Tiny Desk. It’s an abundance of gifted musicians who have all played with a long, long list of legends, including Elvis, Don Williams and John Prine. …  The small band for this stripped-down version of the “Revue” is fleshed with Dante Schwebel on guitar and Russ Pahl’s resonator guitar sounds.

Midway through the four-song set (that includes tunes from his 2017 album Waiting on a Song), Dan introduces a powerhouse: the seasoned but relatively unknown blues-and-soul singer Robert Finley. The husky voiced gentleman, with a giant smile and magical charisma, is heart-winning and heart-warming. It’s remarkable that this legally blind singer is only now getting the attention he deserves….  Robert Finley and Dan Auerbach released [an album] at the end of 2017 called Goin’ Platinum.

In the recent Tiny Desk Concert from fellow Nashville musician John Prine, [he told a tale] of writing songs with Pat McLaughlin in the morning, going to town for some meatloaf and then recording the song by day’s end. Well that’s Pat on the mandolin here in this Tiny Desk set. His playing is both astonishing and low-key.

The Review plays four songs

“Waiting On a Song” is a folk song with a country feel and a slide guitar solo on that resonator guitar.

“Never In My Wildest Dreams” feels like an old cowboy song complete with what is almost cowboy yodelling from Schwebel.

“Get It While You Can” features Robert Finley on vocals.  It is the traditional song and Finley does a great job, singing with gusto and making clear some lyrics that I never heard before.  His voice is pretty great too.

“Shine On Me”  This song is irresistible even if it sounds exactly like a Travelling Wilbury song.

It’s just a matter of time before he hits on a genre that I really like, I’m sure.

[READ: January 5, 2018] Haynes Explains Americans

This book came across my desk and it looked pretty funny.

There was no author name on the cover, but inside it mentions that it is written by Boris Starling.  I’d never heard of him, but I looked him up and found that he has written seven crime novels and that his first, Messiah, was notable for its fast pace and high levels of gore.  He has written a bunch of other stuff too, including several (at least 12) of the popular ‘Haynes Explains’ series of tongue-in-cheek mini-manuals.

So this is written as a manual (based on a stripdown and rebuild).

It is written very much like a car manual: “the aim of this manual is to help you get the best value from the American.”  It includes lots of pictures of car parts with labels for other things.  It’s a good mockery of the manuals .

Normally I enjoy a good mockery of Americanisms.  We are ripe for parody.  But this book feels just too easy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA MEREDITH-Tiny Desk Concert #713 (March 2, 2018).

I have never heard anything like this.  From sound to melody, to intensity, to instrumentation, this whole thing just rocked my world.

The melody for “Nautilus” is just so unexpected.  It opens with an echoed horn sound repeating.  And then the melody progresses up a scale, but not a scale, a kind of modified scale that seems off kilter just as it seems familiar.  The cello plays it, the guitar plays it, the sousaphone (!) plays it.  And it continues on in like fashion until only the high notes remain and then a menacing low riff on sousaphone cello and guitar breaks through–a great villain soundtrack if ever there was.  While everyone plays this riff, Anna returns to the keys to play the modified scale.

Meanwhile, the drummer has looked like he’s asleep behind his small kit.  And then 3 anda half minutes in he wakes up and starts playing a loud but slow rhythm.  The guitar begins soloing and as it fades out that main riff begins, now with a simple drum beat–not matching what anyone else is playing, mind you.  The sousaphone (which must have an echo on it or something and the cello pick up the low menace and it seems like everybody is doing his and her own thing.  But it all works amazingly.

So just who is Anna Meredith?

Anna Meredith was a former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composer in Residence. Two of the three songs performed here come from her 2016 release called Varmints.

Bob Boilen was also impressed when he first saw Anna Meredith live:

I first saw this British composer a year ago, in a stunning performance at the SXSW musical festival. It was one of the best concerts of my life. The music I heard sent me into a state of reverie. If music could levitate my body, this is how it would sound. It carried me away and thrilled my soul. I was giddy for days.

Now, I know this isn’t music for everyone. … But if you know and love the music of Philip Glass, King Crimson or Steve Reich — music that’s electrifying, challenging and sonically soars and ripples through your body — then crank this up.

Lest you worry that she couldn’t translate it to the Tiny Desk (she says they normally have 23 suitcases full of crap so this has been an exciting challenge to squeeze in here)

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I’ve experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It’s all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

The second song, “Ribbons” is quieter.  It’s and new song and it has vocals.  Her vocals aren’t great (“hard when you’ve got the voice of a five-year old boy”) but the melody she builds around it shows that her  voice is just one more instrument (albeit saying interesting words).  Actually, that’s not fair, they are just so different from the noise of the other two songs that it feels very faint in comparison.

It opens with a quiet guitar and electronic drum.  And slowly everyone else joins in.  A nice string accompaniment from the cello (Maddie Cutter), bass notes on the sousaphone (Tom Kelly) and even backing vocals from everyone.  By the third go around the drummer (Sam Wilson) is playing the glockenspiel.  By that time the song has built into a beautiful round and the quietness of her voice makes complete sense.  As the song nears its end, Sam has switches to a very fast but quiet rhythm on the floor tom.

She introduces the band and wishes a happy birthday to guitarist Jack Ross.  She says this is a great present as “so far all we’ve gotten him is an apple corer, the gifts have been a bit low grade.”

They make some gear switches, “we have a bit of a logistics problem with all our gear we can’t quite afford to bring enough glockenspiels, we pass the pure crap glockenspiel  around ans everyone gets to go ‘my turn!'”

“The Vapours” opens with a wonderfully wild guitar riff–fast and high-pitched and repeated over and over.  Anna Meredith adds waves of synths and then in comes the sousaphone and plucked cello.  Then fast thumping on the floor tom propels the song along.  The song slows a bit a Anna plays the clarinet (!).  The song dramatically shifts to some complicated time signature while Anna plays glockenspiel.  After a few rounds, while this complex guitar riff continues the drum and sousaphone start playing a pretty standard beat the contradicts everything else that’s going on and then Anna just starts pounding the crap out of some more toms.

All through this there are electronic sounds adding to the chaos and I have no idea who is triggering them, but it’s really cool.

The end is almost circusy with the big sousaphone notes and yet it’s like no circus anyone has every heard.  When the camera pulls back and you can see everyone working so hard and yet smiling ear to ear (especially Maddie), you know this is some great stuff.

The end of the song winds up with a hugely complicated tapping melody on the guitar and everyone else working up a huge sweat.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved this.  I immediately ordered Varmints and checked her touring schedule.

How disappointed was I to see that Anna Meredith had played Philly just last month and has now gone back to Europe!  I do hope she comes back soon.

[READ: August 30, 2017] McSweeney’s 48

For some reason, I find the prospect of reading McSweeney’s daunting.  I think it’s because I like to post about every story in them, so I know I’m in for a lot of work when I undertake it.

And yet I pretty much always enjoy every piece in each issue.  Well, that explains why it took me some three years to read this issue (although I did read Boots Riley’s screenplay in under a year).

This issue promised: “dazzling new work; a screenplay from Boots Riley with a septet of stories from Croatia.”

LETTERS

GARY RUDOREN writes about using the Giellete Fusion Platinum Razor every day for 18 days and how things were good but have gotten a little ugly.  On day 24 he had a four-inch gash under his nose.  Later on Day 38 it was even worse–a face full of bloody tissue squares.  By day 67 he is writing to thank McSweeney’s for whatever they did perhaps it was the medical marijuana but now his face is baby butt smooth even without shaving.  He wants to change the slogan to Gilette Fusion the shave that lasts forever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE PIERCE BROTHERS-The Records Were Ours, (2017).

The Pierce Brothers was without a doubt the best opening-act-whom-I-hadn’t-heard-of-before.  The two of them (twins!) were an incredibly energetic, exciting and crowd-pleasing act.  They had us clapping, singing along and generally making all kinds of merry.

Jack (drums and more, including guitars) and Patrick (guitars and more) Pierce (and their family, obviously) are from Melbourne.  They have a pretty big following there and yet apparently no Wikipedia page about them!  Go figure.

They have released a number of EPs and this was the first of two in 2017.  They are a bit more subdued on record (especially the couple of mellower songs here).

“Take Me Out” has a terrific, great catchy guitar riff followed by a shout-along chorus of “stand up!” and “take me out.”  This song rocks a lot harder than their other songs (there’s more production as well).  This is a great clap-along and get-up and sing song.

Their other songs are a bit more folkie (live, it’s primarily acoustic guitar and drum kit). But even their folkie songs tend to move fast and have big sing-along choruses.

“The Records Were Ours” has a simple 1,2,3 waltz melody.  It’s incredibly catchy and has a pointed  verse

When you left my house / You took the records and they were ours / You hadn’t broken them up just yet / You got me hooked on these cigarettes

and the best, most understated kiss-off chorus ever:

That’s why / I don’t care much for you / I don’t care much for you anymore

“Rhodes” is a more traditional folk rock song–a simple beat and bouncy guitars.  The big difference is the lengthy guitar solo that ends the song.  It was on this song that I first noticed that Jack (on the left when they play live) sounds more than a bit like Ed from Live.  “Rhodes” is a minor key, darker ballad with a whistling solo that is crazily distorted and more than a little creepy.

“Take a Shot” returns to that big anthemic singalong.  They sing in gruff voices, loudly, and it’s quite catchy.  Later in the EP there’s a live recording from the Syndey Opera House Forecourt in which they introduce the song by saying they wrote it about an [American] fuckwit with a really stupid haircut and we’re all stuck with him for the next four years.

“Keep In Mind” is a slower ballad with interesting percussive sounds.  Jack sings with some falsetto notes that also remind me of Ed from Live.

The final two tracks are live.  The first is that version of “Take a Shot” and the second is a then new song called “Brother” recorded live at Paradiso, Amsterdam.  They tell the audience that “Black Dog” was written for the brother and that “Genevieve” was written for their sister while this song is written for their older brother Justin (“you see my brother his name is Justin Anthony / he was eleven when we were three).  It’s got a big easy chorus that’s basically just a simple melody of whoa whoa oh oh, whoa whoa oh.  Impossible not to sing along to.

They ask, you guys wanna join in?  And do they ever.  The audience is so loud and encouraging that when the song ends, the crowd starts the sing along all over again.  And they guys actually have to start playing the end of the song over again–that’s gotta feel pretty awesome.

And that’s the kind of power they have live.

[READ: December 10, 2017] “The Queen of Zilch”

It is Christmas Eve and the narrator is flaked out in the basement at her dad’s.   She could hear her dad’s new girlfriend Danièle making tons of food for the party.  Danièle had invited “her mother, her million sisters, and god knows who else.”  Her father had only invited a client of his who had just gotten divorced.

Her father didn’t talk to her much.  She had “moved” into the basement.  Her father had taken out the old couch out and replaced it with the one form the den (because the new girlfriend wanted a  new couch).  But he did nothing else to make the place hers–no fridge, no other renovations.  Just a basement.

He came down to give her a warning not to dress crazy or put on make up like a drag queen. (more…)

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