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Archive for the ‘The Guardian’ Category

[ATTENDED: September 12, 2019] Built to Spill

After the last time I saw Built to Spill (which was amazing), I felt like I didn’t really need to see them again.  The show was excellent and I was right in front of Doug–an amazing vantage point.

Then he announced he was touring the Keep It Like a Secret album.  This is the album that introduced me to the band 20 years earlier and it has some of my favorite songs on it.  So yes, of course I was going to go see that.  It turned out that the Philly show was on a night I was busy (but I did get a ticket just in case–turns out my plans changed but then Babymetal announced a show for that night so I sold my BtS ticket for and went to Babymetal instead).  But this show at Starland Ballroom was going to happen the night before my plans anyway, so I grabbed a ticket for this show.

I have mixed feeling about Starland.  If you get there late–and it’s a popular show–forget about it.  When we saw Death Cab for Cutie, we were lucky to get in the door.  So for BtS I left really early and got there really early and was about the 17th person in the building.  So I had my pick of where to stand.

Last time I saw BtS, I was right in front of Doug Marstch, like right on the stage.  It was incredible watching him from so close.  And yet, due to acoustics, I could barely hear him at all.  So I told myself that this time I would stand back and enjoy the whole experience.  But things got the best of me.  First off, there was a gate, so I wasn’t going to be right up against the stage.  But more importantly as I stood back in a sweet spot, I watch all these tall people push past me and I couldn’t help myself, I had to grab a railing spot.  So once again I was right in front of Doug and his massive amplifier.  I could hear the vocals a little bit better than last time, but again, it wasn’t the same as hearing the full band.  And, honestly I could barely hear the second guitarist.  So, I have really learned my lesson for next time.  But again, it was so cool seeing him work his magic up close that I’m willing to overlook some things.

But NEXT TIME, for sure I will stand back.

Oh and check out this cool poster for the tour.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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pinballSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICSFall Nationals The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, ON. Night 4 of 13 (November 13, 2003).

This was the 4th night of the Rheostatics 13 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  Rheostatics Live has recordings of nights 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7.  It was guest vocalists night with this lineup: Reid Jamieson, Mike Bell, Andy Maize, Dennis Ellsworth, Justin Rutledge, Jen Foster, Ron Koop, Kurt Swinghammer,  Donna Orchard, Serena Ryder, Matthew Crowley, Paul Linklater, Leslie Stanwyck, Ford Pier, Dylan Hudecki, Jonathan Seet, Selena Martin, Amer Diab,  Jason Plumb, Jose Contreras, Silas White, Greg Smith Sounds, Paul MacLeod.

The show opens with the instrumental introduction of “Four Little Songs” which turns into a lovely version of “Song of Flight.”

The rest of the show sounds very different from other shows.  Obviously because of the different singers, but the band is quite restrained.  Not phoning it in, but holding back, allowing the singers to really stand out.  Songs are slower, fills are quieter and the band does feel more like a backing band (without the songs suffering).

And then the guest vocalists come in.  Reid Jamieson sings “PIN.” He has the same tone as Martin.  It’s a nice version.  As he gets off the stage he says. “I’m naming my first child Rheostatics.”  Someone warns him: “think of the school grounds.”

Mike Bell (from Dunville, Ontario and the post-hardcore band Chore) says “I just did a big shot of Buckley’s so bear with me.”  He sings “King of the Past” but has rather flat vocals.  The pace is slower too.

Dave tells the audience that it’s all guest vocalists and they are flattered that this could happen.  And then there’s Andy.  Andy Maize of Skydiggers sings “We Went West,” and says, “I lent my teleprompter to Mr Chretien for his farewell address, so I apologize for all my reading.”  He sings raspy and great and I think adds some gravitas to the song.

Dennis Ellsworth sings “Northern Wish.”  Dave asks him, “Do you favor the Melville version of the song?”  “I do.”  He has some gentle singing that works well with this song.  When it’s over, Dave announces, “Ladies and gentleman Ward MacLaurin Cornell [a Canadian broadcaster noted for hosting Hockey Night in Canada] because of Dennis’ jacket I guess.

Justin Rutledge sings “Feed Yourself.”  Dave says it’s not the first time he has fronted the group.  “The first time was 4 days after I turned 19 (that would be 1998) at the Rivoli.  He has a gravelly voice that sort of works with the song although he’s a little slow, maybe.  But he really gets into it.

Next up, “Here’s Jen Foster everybody.”  She sings the new song “The Tarleks” and adds an interesting spin to it with hr voice and delivery. There’s some fun wild guitar at the end.

Then Dave says, “Uh oh here’s the big money.”  Ron Koop of Tim Mech’s Peepshow sings “Introducing Happiness” but first he asks, “Is this Star Search?  I feel under-dressed.”  Dave says, “I want to know is there a name for your beard?”  “Dudley?” “Gunther?”  Dave says just “The Koop.”   He says, “I’m a backup singer I don’t know what to do without a bass in front of me.”  Dave notes air bass didn’t really take of like air guitar did.  Koop says he loves this song, and while not really lead vocal quality, he does a really fun job with it.

Kurt Swinghammer is a Canadian singer-songwriter and visual artist.  He and Dave have a chat about a club owner named Jimmy Scopas, it’s pretty funny.  While singing “It’s Easy To Be With You,” there’s a bunch of ad libs in the middle of the song.

Donna Orchard sings a kind of operatic “Jesus Was Once A Teenager, Too” which works nicely for the high notes.

Serena Ryder “The stage hog… can’t keep you away.  How’d your set go tonight?  “Really fun. I really enjoyed it a lot.”  Dave: “You guys like it?”  “That’s what they call popular acclaim.”  She does a cool trippy rendition of “Digital Beach.”

Matthew Crowley is a mumbly singer of this mumbly song, “Earth/Monstrous Hummingbirds.”  It’s a hard song and this version is a little disappointing.

Paul Linklater comes up to sing “California Dreamline.”  Dave shouts “Hey, Link, those dirty Toronto winters will get you every time.”   “You’re the bridge the half way point.”  This version is echoey and trippy and sounds very different, Linklater gets a little crazy carried away by the end.

Leslie Stanwyck from The Pursuit of Happiness and Universal Honey is gonna do a song [“Claire”] that appeared on two records…
Tim: “Is it not on the live record?”
Dave: “I don’t think so?” [It is]
Martin: “We like this one a lot.”
Dave to Leslie: “Are you familiar with the Howl Brothers version or the Rheostatics?”  Rheostatics!  Her version sounds great.

Ford Pier comes out and they tell him he’s got a lot of nerve going back into the archives.  Ford: “Entirely my own idea.”  They play “Chemical World,” a song from 1986, from “our second demo tape ever.”  They do a good job with it too.

Dylan Hudecki wonders, “How can I beat that?  This is so awesome.  I feel privileged.”  Tim describes the night as “Karaoke with a capital K.”  Hudecki says this a song [“Satan is the Whistler”] for all the people who went to Whistler and wondered what went wrong.  There’s lots of fun vocal nonsense at he end Martin even gets out his mechanical robotic voice.

Jonathan Seet does a sweet version of “Take Me in Your Hand,” and then Selena Martin comes out: “The word is dazzling.”

Selena says, “Pretty fuckin 70s, eh?”  Dave: “Look at you in your 70s outfit.  Any particular reason you chose “Dope Fiends?”  She says a friend made her a mixtape and “then I heard this fuckin’ song.   The rest is history.”  I wonder if it’s in a odd key—no one seems to be able to hit the notes.

Amer Diab gets the beloved “Horses.”  And he does a good job, but not as angry as Dave does it.

Jason Forrest Plumb was the lead singer and front man of the Waltons.  Dave asks how things are in Saskatchewan.  “Cold, snowy and the ‘Riders aren’t making it to the cup this year.   Bad calls all day that day.”  They play a slow and moody “Shaved Head.”

Jose Contreras, frontman for By Divine Right, José Contreras says, “Rheostatics changed my life.”  Dave: “for the better I hope.”  Jose: “For the better.   They taught me and a lot of other people a great lesson to dare to be glorious.”  He notes that this [“Triangles on the Wall”] is an autobiographical [he can’t get the word out] song.  “Am I singing this in the first person?  It’s kind of waltz in the key of D.”  He gets really into it with a bunch of ad-libbed jokes and whatnot.

Silas White does a good version of “Queer.”  In the end of the song Dave asks twice, Silas do you miss British Columbia?”  But we never hear the answer.

Dave says he’ll pay acoustic for this one.  Greg Smith the bassist Weakerthans, makes “Self Serve” sound a bit more twangy–“what went wrong with martin?  Is he on some kinda drug or something?”  As the song ends, they introduce Paul MacLeod also of Skydiggers (he sounds just like Martin at beginning of “Record Body Count.”  The song starts chaotic and fun and it’s a great ending to the main set.

Dave says they sent out an email about a week ago but since there are a lot of luddites among us, some people didn’t respond to the request to come up here.  So,”we will invite as may people as can fit on stage.  Don’t be shy.  Purple shirt guy be the first.  Lots of room, folks.”  They wonder if they can get the entire bar on stage.

The whole club sings “Legal Age Life,” with occasional singers stepping up to the mic.  And Dave shouting in the last verse: “Eagleson ripped off Bobby Orr.”

[READ: December 30, 2016] Hear the Wind Sing

After reading the Madras Press Murakami Slow Reader issue.  I decided it was time to read some more from the man himself.

So I decided to start with his first book–which I’d read about in the New Yorke essay.  Incidentally, the New Yorker essay that talks about his writing style is expanded on in the introduction to this version of the book (which is technically called Wind/Pinball and is a collection of the first two stories).

The essay is called “The Birth of My Kitchen-Table Fiction.”  While the New Yorker essay covers a lot of his life, this essay focuses on his early days–and gives more detail to some of the ideas he mentioned.  He says he hated the idea of working for a company so he opened a jazz club (it cost a lot less to do this back in 1974).  He shares details of the club and talks about how hard he worked.

Then he talks about the baseball game that inspired him to write.  In that previous essay he mentioned the game, but in this essay we get a lot more detail. He went to the Central League season opener: the Yakult Swallows vs the Hiroshima Carp (he was a Swallows fan, despite their perennially poor record).  He says he stretched out on the lawn with a beer and when he heard the crack of a bat, “for no reason and based on no grounds whatsoever, it suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.” (more…)

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ageSOUNDTRACK: COURTNEY BARNETT-Live at SXSW, (March 21, 2015).

cbsxswI enjoyed Barnett’s single “Avant Gardener” a lot.  Then I got a little sick of it (I love WXPN, but man they can overplay a song).  And yet I still like Barnett’s wordplay and her sense of melody.

I was really psyched to hear how noisy her latest single “Pedestrian at Best” was.  When she played the NPR SXSW showcase, a night in which she played exclusively songs from her then unreleased new album, I did not expect her to be so rocking.

But she really embraces the noise.  The sharpest, clearest sound in this show is Dave Mudie’s ever present snare drum–a cracking sound that keeps the beat and the song steady while Courtney thrashes away on her guitar and Bones Sloane’s low bass thuds along.

The set is short, and Barnett seems genuinely delighted at the size of the crowd.  They run through 8 of the songs of the new album, and they sound great.

  • “Elevator Operator” a great opener, familiar sounding but new.
  • “Pedestrian at Best” noisy and rocking–she has a ton of fun with this.
  • “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” is a bit mellower
  • “Depreston” a slow song with great lyrics.
  • “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” a bratty fast rocker with Barnett slurring her lyrics in a fun way.
  • “Aqua Profunda!” a song about swimming in Melbourne.  2 minutes long which she describes as “stupid.”
  • “Dead Fox” super catchy and poppy.
  • “Kim’s Caravan” closes this short show with a long song.  It starts slow and moody, But Barnett starts wailing on her guitar by the end.

It’s kind of a shame that the show is only 36 minutes, but it’s a great way to get in, play some great songs and get out leaving us wanting more.  I hope the full length rocks as much as this show does.

You can watch her whole set at NPR.

[READ: March 20, 2015] The Age of Earthquakes

I saw this book at work and could tell just from the typeface that it was a Douglas Coupland book (he is that much of a brand).  I was a little thrown off by the other names on the book as I’ve never heard of them, but it is clearly a Coupland production, even if he is alphabetically second.

I’m not even sure what the other two authors contribute (or who they are), as the book is so clearly Couplandy.  Of course, having said that, the majority of the book is pithy aphorisms about the age of technology and the future.  So truly any one could have said them.

There is something kind of staid and conventional about Coupland writing about the craziness of the future and all that.  He’s been doing it for decades now.  But I found this book enjoyable.  Not mind blowing (although some ideas are pretty fascinating), not life changing, but enjoyable. (more…)

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jetpackSOUNDTRACK: WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS-“Quiet Little Voices” (2009).

jetpacksWhen you have a book with “Jetpack” in the title, the appropriate band is We Were Promised Jetpacks, no?  I’ve heard a lot of good things these guys.  But all I knew for certain was that they were Scottish.

I listened to their debut EP, The Last Place You’ll Look, which I liked a little.  But I didn’t care for the sound of the EP itself, it was rather flat.  A few listens got me enjoying the melodies and such but it never grabbed me.  Especially when I compared it to “Quiet Little Voices,” the lead single from their debut full length, These Four Walls.

The vocals are a bit stronger, the guitars and bass are both more clear.  The overall feeling is just brighter.  Now this may be a sign of selling out (is that something bands still do?), but really I think it’s just a better production for this song.  Which has a big chorus (and good backing vocals).

I listened to a few more tracks from These Four Walls and they are all good too.  I guess start with the albums and save the EP until after you’ve absorbed the band.

[READ: July 5, 2013] You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

Gauld makes comics like no one else I know.  Most of his people are silhouetted or are the most rudimentary designs–simple triangle-shaped clothes, circle heads with dots for eyes and little else–maybe a nose if it’s profile. (Okay, there’s a bit of Chris Ware, but more like a much more relaxed Chris Ware).  And the wonderful thing is just how much he can convey with these painstakingly simple drawings.

The content of his comics is usually quite clever and often literary.  While I admit there were some I didn’t get (Like the Eric Gill cartoon–shame on me?–Aha: “[Gill’s] personal diaries describe his sexual activity in great detail including the fact that he sexually abused his own children, had an incestuous relationship with his sister and performed sexual acts on his dog.”  Geez, now the comic is very funny.).  There were some in which I liked the set up but would have preferred something funnier (like the Tom Waits comic–shame on him?)

But overall this collection was really enjoyable.  And I laughed a lot. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOENIX in Studio at KEXP (2009).

For this in-studio  performance, two members of Phoenix showed up to play a stripped down acoustic performance.

They play four songs (and all of the songs are quite short, as well).  Three songs from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (“Listzomania” “1901” and “Armistice”) and a cover of Air’s “Playground Love.”  Given how different Phoenix and Air sound (even if they are both French), it’ an impressive change of style for the set.

This stripped down version really shows what a great voice the singer has.  And these songs, while not quite as catchy as the originals, still sound fantastic.  There’s also a brief chat with the DJ about their then recent appearance on Saturday Night Live.

If you like Phoenix, this is a great show to download.

[READ: September 1, 2012]  An Iliad

Since I really enjoyed the two Baricco stories that I’ve read so far, I decided to try something else from him. An Iliad is a fascinating book from conception to execution.

Baricco wanted to read Homer’s Iliad aloud on the radio.  But when he investigated the project further he found that a) it was way too long and b) it wasn’t really well suited to contemporary audiences.  So (and he gives details about exactly how he modified it), he decided to remove sections of the original, restructure it and try to give it a more contemporary feel.

But he also tried to keep as much of the original as he could.  So, rather than rewriting the book, he worked with a prose translation (poetry being way too convoluted for his project) and used his  translation of that translation  (which for us gets further translated into English, yipes, although the translation is again a very good job by Ann Goldstein) to create his Iliad.  One of the major excisions he did for the book was to remove all of the sections with the gods.  They are alluded to, but he removed the gods (and all supernatural aspects) from the book reasoning that the mortals reference what the gods say and do so anyway, so he simply took away the duplication.  Plus, the gods aren’t really relevant to contemporary listeners. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Earth Divison EP (2012).

Oh wait, this isn’t the Mogwai EP.  What CD did I put in?

Holy crap, it IS the Mogwai CD.  And it opens with a beautiful piano and violin ballad called “Get to France.”  While it’s true that Mogwai has always been about melody (under the noise), I never expected this.  It sounds like a gorgeous soundtrack to a sad film.  It’s followed by “Hound of Winter” a gentle ballad of acoustic guitars and strings.  I know that Mogwai has a softer side, it’s just surprising to hear it all at once like this!

“Drunk and Crazy” is more like it.  It opens with a wall of guitar noise which…vanishes after about two minutes into a gentle, dark string section (strings are by Luke Sutherland of Bows and Long Fin Kille).  And while the distortion never entirely goes away (it’s evident in the piano), it is certainly pushed to the background until about 90 seconds later when it begins to overtake the track again.  It’s nowhere near as dynamic as their best stuff, but it really showcases what Mogwai can do in just over 5 minutes.

The EP ends with “Does This Always Happen?”  While it reintroduces electric guitars, it’s still a mellow song–a pretty electric guitar riff repeated while piano stabs and chords flesh out the tune and strings make it a fuller song.

None of  these songs will become “classics” (although Does This Always happen?” sounds the most like  a Mogwai song).  But it’s always great to hear them expand what they can do.   And these EPs give them a chance to show off some new styles.

To learn more about these tracks, read Stuart’s explanation of them at The Guardian.

[READ: May 25, 2012] “The Proxy Marriage”

I love Maile Meloy and I was crazy excited when I saw that she had a story in this issue.

Meloy writes stories that seem simple—they avoid a lot of the trappings of contemporary stories, indeed, they often feel like they are set in the past, even if, like in this one, they are very current.  Part of that is setting.  She tends to write about people and family interactions, which don’t require a time frame.  She also tends to set her stories in unlikely places—Montana, for instance, where not too many stories are set.  Of course, this one is set in Montana for a good reason.  It is the only state that allows double proxy marriage.  Which is what?  In a proxy marriage, if your beloved can’t make it, you can have a stand-in for him or her do the speaking and signing.  In a double proxy marriage, neither person is present but they agree to let proxies serve for them.  Why on earth would you do this?  Well, this is common in military cases, where one member is serving overseas and the other doesn’t live in Montana—this allows the non-military person to get all of the military benefits that a spouse is entitled to.  Since Montana allows this, and since this story is set soon after the 9/11/01 attacks, it all jibes.

But this story is really about unrequited love.  And I have to say, now that I’m an adult, that unrequited love sucks.  I mean, true it sucks when you’re in it too, but I hate stories that romanticize the idea that you should hold fast to the belief that this person who doesn’t  think about you that way will somehow come around. It happens a lot in stories (and always swells the heart) but when have you ever heard of it happening in real life?  Most of the time the person isn’t worth it , but realistically, once you have left school (it always happens in school) that person has found someone new and that’s the end of it.

This story’s unrequited lover is William, a shy awkward boy who plays the piano.  The girl he pines for is Bridey Taylor, with golden curls and dreams of being an actress.  William never asked her out.  Bridey was popular and other boys asked her out—and William suffered through every one.   But they were friendly—she sang while he played piano, and he helped her with school work.   Then the 9/11 attacks happened.  And this is where the story gets interesting.  Because although neither of  the main characters are not directly involved in the attacks, when the requests start coming in for proxy marriage, Bridey’s father, who was willing to perform them, asked William and Bridey to be the proxies. (more…)

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