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Archive for the ‘Tom Waits’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GORDI-“Can We Work It Out” (Night Owl, November 20, 2018).

I wanted to finish out November with one more live recording.  Turns out NPR was there to help out.  They have a new feature called Night Owl.

Every so often, late at night over the past couple years, a team of NPR Music video producers has been toting approximately 80 pounds of audio/video equipment and a statue of a golden owl to the far reaches of American cities. The owl is our Night Owl, and it’s the totem that has presided over nearly every episode of a show that goes by the same name. Night Owl is our chance to get out into the field, put some of our musicians somewhere unexpected and see what magic may arise.

They have released a bunch of these videos on YouTube.

I picked one from an artist I didn’t know yet, Gordi.

I’ve heard of her, of course, but I think this was my first exposure to her.  She has a lovely (slightly rough) voice as she sits at the piano singing this pretty, ache-filled song.

[READ: February 8, 2018] “Wars in Distant Lands”

This story was translated from the Arabic by Raymond Stock.

At first I really enjoyed this, it felt very contemporary and compelling.   And then it just got weird and war-based.

The narrator pulled Teresa’s postcard from the mailbox.  She was arriving on a train at 7PM on June 16.  The end said, this is being mailed from Havana and will probably arrive the same day as her, which it did. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 2 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (November 12, 2004).

The Rheostatics, live at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, November 12, 2004. This was the 2nd night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  This show was exactly 13 years ago!

I compared all of the setlists from the nine shows and was somewhat surprised to see just how much repeating they did. Most of the repeated songs are new ones–they played a lot from 2067, which makes sense.  But for a Fall Nationals, there’s really not a lot of “popular” or “rare” stuff.  But the band is in terrific form for all nine shows and the recordings are consistently great.

They open intensely with “Christopher.”  It’s a great version and Martin is in very good voice.  Similarly, “King Of The Past” sounds terrific.  Once again, “Pornography” opens a lot like “Bread, Meat peas and Rice,” but the backing vocals sound great .  At the end, Dave notes: “a bit of folk disco there for ya.”

Introducing “The Tarleks,” Dave says it’s “from our new album called 2067.  It’s the year of Martin’s 100th birthday and Canada’s bicentennial and the year we get a hit single.  We’re having a party and you’re all invited.  Martin: “Unfortunately so are these guys, the Tarleks.”  The song is perfect and segues right into “Marginalized” which is also great.  The whole band is in great form and I love the guitar sounds as it segues to the chorus.

“Power Ballad For Ozzy Osbourne” is slow and fine.  And Dave says, “and you doing the super tokes you are…. from the country.  Tim: “Mmm smells good. Smells like grade 12 math class.”  MPW:  Shop class.  Dave: Back in the 70s they let you do that sort of thing …80s.  Tim, snapping fingers: “It’s cool.  Foosball is like soccer crossed with shishkabobs.”

“Fish Tailin'” rocks and then comes “Me and Stupid,” which hasn’t been played in a while.  Tim plays the riff and sings “Dave is tuning, tuning his guitar, Dave is learning how to use a tuner on his guitar.”  Dave starts the song and after the first verse he stops the song “I gotta re tune.”  Tim: “He’s just leaning.”  MPW: “That’s okay my hands hurt a little.”

“PIN” and “Mumbletypeg” sound terrific and mid song Dave says, “We’re the Rheostatics were from Etobicoke, it’s west of here.”

Dave: “We’re gonna take it down a bit.”  Tim: “We’re gonna take it down but its gonna become very heavy” with “Here Comes the Image.”  While waiting Tim pays the bass riff to “Tom Sawyer.”   Tomorrow at 2 o’clock we’ll be at Sam the Record Man.”

“Shack In The Cornfields” sounds quite different with Dave’s bass backing vocals.  It takes a while for the song to start really rocking but once it does it’s so much fun.  I like the chorus of “Try To Praise This Mutilated World” more and more.  I’m assuming by now that the spoken part is prerecorded.

“In This Town” starts quietly but martin sings a big growly ending.  “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” slows down in the middle with a drum solo and a clapping solo.  After the solo, Selina Martin comes out and sings the end with Martin.

Martin: “Dave Alexander Herschel Bidini wrote that in 1972.”
Dave: “Hell of a year.  What with Ian Sunter’s field goal and everything.   This refers to the 60th Grey Cup in which Hamilton ran the clock down while getting close enough for Ian Sunter to kick a 34-yard field goal on the last play of the game to win.]

Tim plays a great “Bad Time To Be Poor” and Dave says “We will conclude with a song from 2067.”
Someone in the audience shouts: “what do you mean conclude?”
Dave: “what do you think I mean?  We’re fucking right off after this one.  The limo is idling, baby.”
Tim: “conclude the first set.”
Martin: “it’s really just a smoke break for me.”
Dave: “oh we got rail and hoo-ers waiting, don’t worry.”

“Making Progress” is lovely as always.  “Feed Yourself” starts off a little rocky but it sounds great.  Dave gets a little crazy with the “inside his head” bit at the end (and someone is manipulating his voice to echo and process in one way or another, which is cool).

After a quick encore break, they’re back with a Dave song while Martin smokes.  In “My First Rock Concert” he changes The Ramones to Johnny Winter for some reason.

Someone keeps shouting “Saskatchewan” and you can hear a rhythm guitar playing the melody.  Mike says this ones for the greasy wheel, but then the guitar switches to “Self Serve Gas Station” and Mike says “make up your mind I’m trying to decide which way to adjust the chair.”

Before “Desert Island Discs,” Martin notes: “We stayed in the same hotel as Van Halen a week ago.  (Those hookers in the lobby were not for us).

Desert Island Discs is sloppy and fun with people picking these discs:

Dave: Ramones-Rocket to Russia; Cars-Cars; PiL-Metal Box.
Tim: Bob Marley-Survival; Tom Waits-Closing Time (huge cheer); Pavement-Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.
MPW: It’s his first time.  He says it’s like ordering last in a restaurant.  Anything by Gino Vanelli; Music for a Large Ensemble; Steve Reich (Tim: try to follow the groove) Metal Machine Music-Lou Reed.
Martin: my first record is (plays “Tom Sawyer”); Second Mary Margaret O’Hara-Miss America; Third uh… uh… uh… uh…  Mood Music for Beer and Pretzels
audience members
first one has a hard time: Led Zeppelin, Martin Teilli-Operation Infinite Joy; Rheostatics, of course.
second one: Weakerthans-Left and Leaving; The Beatles-Rubber Soul  and… [Dave: you don;t want to hear the E minor chord] Weezer-Weezer.
As they wrap up the song Mike keeps going after the final chord.  They bust his chops and say he is in the legion hall trance.

The set ends with a great “Legal Age Life At Variety Store.”

They take an encore break and Martin comes back out with  a ‘suede banana’ jacket “Very Century 21–he sold the most houses in the band.”

For the encore, they play “Rain, Rain, Rain” and Martin introduces “Mister Dave Bidini on lead” (it’s sloppy but fun).

This show runs about 2 and a half hours and it sounds great.

[READ: April 6, 2017] Star Scouts

Boy I loved this book.  I loved everything about it, from the understated to the perfectly stated.

The book opens with an alien creature getting yelled at.  Her name is, humorously, Mabel.  Mabel is scanning planets to collect a new species.  It turns out that she is doing this for a badge for scouts.  She selects a newt.  But she accidentally switches from Newt to New Kid (an amusing joke if not a little strange) and the teleportation begins.

The New Kid is Avani.  Avani speaks Hindi (which in itself is pretty awesome).  She and her dad (there is no mention of a mom) have just moved to a new place.  Avani has no friends.  She thinks everyone thinks she’s weird.  Even though she feels like an outsider she is also keeping people away, determined to feel sorry for herself.

The only social activity she has is Flower Scouts. Back home he Scouts were awesome, but here they just talk about make up and boys.  When Avani tries to talk about rodeos, the other kids laugh at her.  And they are equally horrified when she doesn’t swoon over Chaz Wunderlip the boy band sensation.  She would like nothing more than to get out of Scouts but her dad won’t let her quit. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song) Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride (1963).

When producer/musicians John Congleton was a guest DJ on NPR, he played some expected and then some very unexpected songs. The most surprising (although it does make sense) was this song from the Disney Haunted Mansion.

Maybe this song is the reason why he likes the dark so much.

It’s a fun bouncy song, like most Disney stuff it’s hard to believe anyone was really afraid of it, and yet as a kid, that voice and those sounds could certainly be frightening.  The song has all kinds of sounds in it–keys, tubular bells, xylophone, hammered percussion marimba, and a lot of backing vocals.  And of course the amazing vocals (and laughs) Thurl Ravencroft and others.  There’s also great effects with analog tape.  He also points out that the chord progression is quite chromatic: A to B flat to B which is jagged and close together and not easy to listen to.

Congleton says (listen around 34:50):

The vocals are done by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was the voice of Tony the Tiger and the Grinch. I mean, This is Tom Waits before Tom Waits. When I was a kid, I was so attracted to this song, but I was scared of it. The record would sit with my other records and I would see it in there, and I would be like, ‘Do I have the bravery to listen to it right now?’ And sometimes I would, and I was mesmerized by it. But the then I grew up, and I went back and listened to it, and was like, ‘This is brilliant. This is really, really well done.’ I never in my entire life heard background vocals that sounded as tight as that. Never in my life. The harmonies are the tightest harmonies I have ever heard ever. And it’s like, this is for a silly kid’s record — but they were committed to making something special. Everything about that song is incredible to me.”

And yes, it is a silly song, but the recording is really impressive.

[READ: April 20, 2017] Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

It has been almost two years since I read Book 3.  The fact that I’ve had book 4 all this time and simply not read it was not a good sign.  And, ultimately, I found this story ending to be strangely annoying, vaguely compelling and ultimately unsatisfying.

This book mostly follows young Snicket on his solo mission.  He awakes in the middle of the night to see his chaperone S. Theodora Markson sneak out of their room.  He follows her to a warehouse where she steals something and then to a train.  She boards but he is unable to.

The train used to make stops in town but it no longer does and Snicket jumps on board at the only place he can think of).  While he’s hanging on the outside of the train, Moxie drags him in through the window.  That’s about the first third of the book.  It was nice to have another character for him to talk to.

Then a murder happens (this is a pretty violent series for kids).  And the blame is laid at the wrong person’s feet. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 14, 2016] Squeeze

2016-10-14-22-01-21Squeeze’s 1982 Greatest Hits album 45s and Under is my favorite Greatest Hits record of all time.  And yet, I don’t actually own any other Squeeze records.

But over the last year or so my friend Amy has been posting pictures of all the Squeeze and Squeeze-related shows she’s been going to.  And I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  So when they announced they were playing The Keswick Theatre (which I’d never been to before, but which I knew was an intimate venue), I snatched up tickets.

And as their T-Shirt says (see bottom) I’d forgotten how much I like Squeeze. (more…)

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robotSOUNDTRACK: PAOLO ANGELI-Tiny Desk Concert #480 (October 20, 2015).

paoloPaolo Angeli is kind of a one-man band.  But not in a novelty sense.  Rather, he is an accomplished guitarist who decided to modify his guitar.  First a little and then a lot.

Angeli plays a Sardinian guitar which is several steps lower (and bigger) than a traditional guitar (and is bigger accordingly).  And he has added a whole bunch of strange gadgets and toys to alter and enhance the sound.

Notable additions: a set of electronic foot pedals that allow him to play little piano pads which hit the bass strings–he can play lead guitar notes and play complex bass patterns with his feet on the same strings.  He is somehow able to make the guitar sound like an electric and an acoustic at the same time.  There are propellers in the body which make a continuous buzzing sound on the strings.  There’ even a mobile phone for a drone.  I don’t think he uses it in this show, but he jokes that in concert he takes away peoples’ phones when they don’t turn them off and he uses them in his guitar.  He also plays the strings with a bow.

Anything else?  Yes.  Crossing the center of the guitar perpendicularly are another set of “strings.”  He seems to bang on these a few times for more dissonance, and maybe they are what the propeller is playing?  There’s also a set of strings that extend from the guitar head to the base about three inches above where one normally plucks the strings.  These extra strings are primary there for bowing, but they are quite loose and make some interesting scratching sounds on the final song.  There’s also a big spring attached to the bottom for percussion.

Not all of the effects are necessarily pleasant. The buzzing of the propellers is kind of harsh and the giant spring makes some crazy noises.  But his guitar playing is rally very pretty.

Oh and he sings too.

Well, not on the first song, the 12 minute “Mascaratu.”  Although he does whistle (it’s unclear if the deep breaths that he takes are meant to be a part of the song or not).  It opens with beautiful acoustic (fairly traditional) soloing, including some nice harmonics.  And then he flicks a switch and suddenly it sounds electronic.  And you can see and hear the foot pedals at work.  And then he turns on the propeller and starts using the bow.  About 4 minutes in he starts playing chords and the song comes fully alive.  By 7 minutes, he is playing the foot pedals and a lovely acoustic melody which he then trades off for a fast bowing solo.  The song proceeds in different directions and then ends with a lovely bowed solo.

He jokes that “Corsicana” is “Tom Waits vacationing in Sardinia, singing a traditional song in his own way.”  He places a damper/washer type thing under the strings which makes all of the notes sound flat and dead and metallic–yes like Tom Waits.  The bass line is even a bit like Les Claypool.  After an interesting certainly Waitsian solo, he sings what I assume are traditional lyrics (in a traditionally high tenor).  It’s about 7 minutes long.

He asks if there is time for a short song, which proves to be the 8 minute “Brida.”  For this song he uses many items to create a “prepared guitar.” He says that a “prepared guitar comes from the prepared piano which comes from John Cage.”  He wedges all kinds of little things (like binder clips) into the strings.  The song begins as a kind of noisy, chaotic solo.  In the middle of the song he plays some really fast acoustic chords.  Then it’s back to the bow–it’s cool to watch him bowing while the bass pedals are tapping away.  Then he added the buzzing propeller sound and starts hitting the piece of wood at the bottom for percussion.  This includes hitting the big spring for that weird sound and slowly slowly bowing those top strings making a creepy sound.

Angeli is a pretty ingenious player and he is a lot of fun to watch up close–he flips switches, and turns pedals and plays barefoot.  But not everything he does sounds pretty.  And some of the sections seemed to go on a bit long.   I thought I would be fascinated by everything he did but there were times when I couldn’t tell if he was playing something or just showing off the things his guitar could do.

But he is personable and funny and certainly a likable guy.

[READ: March 11, 2016] Little Robot

I love Ben Hatke.  His drawing style is wonderfully cartoonish and cute but with the ability to go a little dark and mildly scary on a dime. He also loves to draw strange-looking aliens and creatures.  Or in this case, robots.

One thing that I thought was especially cool about this book was that there are hardly any words in it.  And there doesn’t need to be.  I kind of wish it was all done without words, but that might turn it into a different kind of story, so I think it was  good choice to include dialogue, but to keep it minimal.

The story opens on a dark night as a truck drives across a bridge.  It hits a bump and a box falls out.  The box bounces over the bridge and lands in the river.

The next morning a little girls wakes up in a trailer park.  She climbs out the window and runs off.  There’s a moment when she seems to be afraid of the kids by the school bus (and the neighbor–there’s clearly a back story here that I wonder what it’s all about–I love that about his stories–there’s stories behind them).  And then she runs down to the water. (more…)

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1973SOUNDTRACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk Concert #412 (December 20, 2014).

lucindaI set tiny, manageable goals for this blog.  They often change over the course of the year, but I like to see if I can complete them.  One such goal was to write about all of the Tiny Desk Concerts from 2014.  And here’s the final one.  (Another such goal is to write about the remainder of the 2016 shows, which is doable).  I also want to write about all of the rest of the First Second Graphic Novels (there’s about 20 of them left).  Insignificant goals that I find satisfying to complete.

I’ve never been a fan of Lucinda Williams.  Although, while I’d certainly heard of her, I obviously didn’t know any of her music. The blurb talks about her distinctive voice.  And it is certainly that.  About 20 years ago a sort of friend of mine saw her open for somebody else and she dismissed Williams as trying to sound like a different singer (wish I could remember who it was).  The irony that Williams has been around since the late 1970s was not lost on me.

But Williams has changed her style over the years.  She originally sang country and has morphed into more of a folk and now a blues style.  This Tiny Desk Concert focuses on her bluesy songs.  I know she’s something of a legend, but I found her demeanor through the whole show off-putting until the end, when she loosened up a bit.

She sings four songs.  “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is rocking blues song.  And I have to say I was pretty shocked by her voice–rough and raspy and sounding not a little hungover.  Her lead guitarist was really the start for me, effortlessly playing some great groovy licks.

For “Cold Day in Hell” (she laughs at saying the title) she straps on an acoustic guitar and then sings like Tom Waits.  That seems like a joke, but the structure of the verses is pure Tom Waits–I would have even suggested he wrote the song.

The third song is the more bluesy “Protection.”  There seems something so inauthentic about this song.  I just don’t believe her rendition of it–I don’t believe that she actually needs protection.  It’s really disconcerting.

She finally smiles after this song and says “Now I’m kinda getting used to this … I’m not a wake yet, that’s what the thing is.  She straps on her guitar and says this is based on the story of the West Memphis Three.  It’ my favorite song of the four–she seems to really get into it.

But all the same, I really don’t like her voice all that much–she’s got a weird drawl and sounds like there are some marbles in her mouth. It’s very strange.  I listened to a bit of a song from a live show from 1989 and her voice was quite pretty–deep, yes, but very pretty.  By 2007, her voice has changed–it’s deeper, with a pronounced drawl.  At a show in 2013, she sounded kind of pretty again.  So, I don’t know what to make of it.  I’ll have to just go back to not listening to her.

[READ: June 8, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974

I really enjoyed this volume a lot.  There were a lot of really funny jokes and the characters are really nicely distributed by now.  I don’t want to say that Schulz hit his stride around this time, because he’s been pretty solid right from the start, but this book was easily my favorite so far.  Possibly because it contained so much of Marcie and Patty who have easily become my favorites.

The year starts off somewhat inauspiciously with the anticlimactic return of Poochie.  She shows up, realizes that Snoopy isn’t a cute puppy anymore and leaves.  Never to be seen again.

More interesting is that Linus decides that since Charlie has been their manager for so long and worked so hard that they ought to throw him a commemorative dinner. They plan it for a couple of weeks and when he finally hears about it, his smile is awesome.  They even get Joe Schlobotnick to agree to come. Of course, then Marcie starts saying that they’d all be hypocrites if they actually showed up and said nice things about him since he’s a terrible manager.  And so they cancel it at the last-minute–while Charlie is there. (more…)

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