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[ATTENDED: March 15, 2019] The Love Language

I had not heard of North Carolina’s The Love Language before this show, despite the fact that they’ve been playing together for nine years.

Their drum head had the band’s name written in a big, puffy, hippie, sixties style, so I expected some serious psychedelia.  Which I did not get.  In fact they rocked pretty hard

They are a four piece centered around guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Stuart McLamb (they’ve been a band for about ten years and the Wikipedia page lists 20 former members).  The current lineup (according to their Facebook page) consists of Thomas Simpson, Andy Holmes, Eddie Sanchez, Jordan McLamb and Stuart McLamb.  Clearly one of those guys wasn’t in Philly. Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACK: GAELYNN LEA-“I Wait” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

If you’re going to put together the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour — an epic night of Tiny Desk-style concerts, held at the wonderful Central Presbyterian Church in Austin during SXSW Tuesday night — you might as well kick things off with a core member of the Tiny Desk Family. Gaelynn Lea won 2016’s second annual Tiny Desk Contest with the barest of ingredients: a few swooping violin strokes, a loop pedal and her fragile-but-forceful voice.

At the Tiny Desk Family Hour, Lea performed in that same spare configuration. She closed with a powerful song called “I Wait,” which addresses the way people with disabilities — Lea herself has brittle bone disease, and works as a motivational speaker and teacher as well as a musician — are frequently left out of social justice movements. It’s Lea at her best, as her warm, intense, hauntingly beautiful voice is shot through with a clear sense of purpose.

This song is wonderful.  The looping is simple but effective–the notes are menacing and effective, while the unlooped pizzicato notes add just the right amount of rhythm to this otherwise sparse song.  For this song is all about the lyrics.  Lea details what it’s like to be handicapped–not in the world at large, but within protest movements which supposedly have her best intentions at heart.

So when you hear them
Make claims of progress
Take a good look
And see who isn’t there
We need a seat now
At the table
So please invite us
Or don’t pretend to care.

When Lea brought “I’ll Wait” to an abrupt close, the audience’s soft collective gasp gave way to the night’s first standing ovation.

It’s a stunning ending.

[READ: February 12, 2019] The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo #2

I really enjoyed the first book in this series and I’m happy to see the follow-up.

It opens with a recap from Charles Thompson, a future reporter (who uses a tiny reporter’s pad to write down his thoughts).  He talks about how he met Margo Maloo, the “Monster Mediator” and how with her help, he was able to locate and deal with a troll in his house.  And by “deal with” he means befriend.  For although Margo is a mediator between monsters and humans, she is mostly interested in the safety of the monsters.

Thompson has dozens of readers, he thinks, and maybe this is why Margo wants his help.

She will not be getting any help from Charles’ friend Kevin, who wants nothing to do with any monsters (unless they come in toy-form, like the Battle Beanz). Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Cobo Hall Detroit, MI (November 23, 1996).

This is the 12th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. This is a partial recording and also not a soundboard mix. It contains the only recording of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” from the tour. This is also one of only 2 Rheos shows recorded in the US to date. This is the show that the Hip recorded for their Live Between Us release and the infamous line “This one’s for the Rheostatics…we’re all richer for having seen them tonight”. The DAT tape label says “Gord Bits” – upon listening to this I realized it is Gord Downie on solo acoustic guitar from October 16 1996 playing a song called “Fear Boner” and another called “Catharsis My Arse” (aka Every Irrelevance from the 2001 Coke Machine Glow album). It also has a 5 minute Tragically Hip jam. Out of respect for the band I followed up with their management and they have asked I do not put this in the public domain…just to clarify what the image shows.

So, compared to the other recordings this one is not as clear–very bass-heavy.  But it still sounds okay.  and the content is pretty great.

I was concerned that an American audience might not be as receptive, but they really get into it (you can hear the audience on the recording…presumably recorded from the seats).

So we only get four songs and it’s almost a total Tim show.

We get the whole of “Bad Time to Be Poor,” and in the middle of the song you can hear someone in the audience say, “these guys are great, aren’t they?” which must have been nice for the band to hear.

Don, clearly the only salesman in the band, says, “That’s a song off of our brand new record which you can’t buy in the United States except at the merchandise counter.  Dave chimes in: “Contraband!”

Up next, it’s more Tim, with “Claire,” which has a nice solo from Martin.  “Horses” is up next.  It’s very rocking, rocking, but a bit muffled.  I feel like it doesn’t quite get the applause it should.  Martin’s horse-guitar sounds at the end are phenomenal.  I wonder if this was my first exposure to them if I would have been blown away.

Martin’s wild guitars segue into “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and as soon as the crowd recognizes it, they go nuts.  It’s sung by Tim and sounds wonderfully dramatic–as it should.  But it’s a nine minute song, what a weird way to end the show.  But the crowd seemed into it, and that’s what matters.

[READ: February 25, 2019] Pop

This is another picture book from First Second.  Once again, because I’m reading everything they publish, I’m including this one too

The cover of this book (fun illustrations by Matt Rockefeller) has the sort of subtitle “Every last bubble must…POP!”

I thought that the story might go in a different direction.  As it opens, we see a boy, Dewey, blowing bubbles.  He says the best part of blowing bubbles is popping them.  The text includes “You don’t need a friend to blow bubbles.”  On the facing page you see kids playing chase.  So I assumed that they would come and pop bubbles with him.

But Dewey doesn’t need friends for this adventure.  He pops several bubbles but then misses the last one.  And it starts floating up and away. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary AB (November 16, 1996).

This is the 7th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  These are the only recordings of “Queer,” “Soul Glue” and “Introducing Happiness” from the tour.

The opening music tonight is “Good Times” by Chic.  Which seems odd.  After a quick “hello,” Martin begins playing “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”  The sound quality of this recording is excellent (as the others are) and this version is pretty outstanding.

Dave says “We’re very nervous.  This is very big place.  We’re very purple.  We’ll do 8 songs tonight and then the Tragically Hip will play.  We’re playing across the country with them and eating all their doughnuts.

“Bad Time to Be Poor” is dedicated to Gord.  It’s another Tim two-fer with “Introducing Happiness” which is “for my cats.”

Up next, Dave introduces “a song about being gay and playing hockey.”  “Queer” sounds great and the band is really into it.  It’s followed by a bouncy and fun “Soul Glue” (three from Tim!) with a grooving solo from Martin.  “Soul Glue is such an underrated gem.  I love the way the middle section is chaotic with the three singers singing different parts and then it segues into the great harmonies of the final “ooooh” section.

Dave jokes: “Hey, Martin, if you’re gonna play stadiums you need to know how to flick the pick.”  Then Dave gives a big shout out to Recordland on 9th: “the greatest record store in the celestial universe.”  And it’s still in business in 2019!

The guys don’t banter too much as openers, but they have this exchange about the people down front:

DB: They’re having too much fun.
MT: Is there such a thing?
DB: Yes as you know first hand.
DB: Does everyone wanna party?  [crowd roars] I was afraid you’d say that.
MT: Well, this song is a real downer.

It’s “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” which sounds great with some really interesting chaotic parts in the middle–Martin seems to be either having fun or going a little crazy with the sounds and soaring vocals and lots of growled “rich”s.

Feed Yourself starts out really weird (a missing guitar maybe).  After a verse or so it sounds fuller.  The middle has no crazy chanting, but when the middle slow part end, it roars back.  It segues instantly into “California Dreamlike.”  When he sings “disillusioned porpoise,” the guitar sounds kind of dolphin-y.  The crowd is totally into them by this point.

They end the show with “RDA.”  Martin seems to start it twice then re-tunes and the blast through it properly.

Although a long rambling Rheostatics show is a thing of beauty, these short sets are pretty spectacular–like a great short story.

[READ: February 21, 2019] Quirk’s Quest 2

I had the exact same reaction from book one as I did for this book.  About Book One I said:

This story threw out so much disconnect for me that I never really determined if I liked it.

The artwork is adorable–the characters look like Fraggle Rock creatures–soft and furry with big round ping pong ball eyes.  Even the bad guys (much taller with four eyes) don’t look all that fierce.

And yet.

In the first 30 pages, these monsters kill and eat some of the cute Fraggle Rock creatures. What?!

This book looks ostensibly like a children’s book.  It is really cute.  But the diary entries of the Captain are written in a cursive that even I had a hard time reading (particularly because the captain’s named is Quenterindy Quirk and he is sailing on the H.M.S. Gwaniimander (hard enough to read that, imagine trying to figure it out in cursive!).

The cursive is still there (they name a river “Mabooglaqui” in cursive), and while there’s less death in the beginning of book two, there is a fairly astonishing scene where a creature eats smalls creatures and is then blown to bits (somehow adorably). Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Saddledome Calgary AB (November 15, 1996).

Rheostatics opened for The Tragically Hip in Fall 1996.  Some of the shows were online already, but in 2018, Rheostatics Live added about ten more shows.  This is the 6th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

Dave introduces the show: “Hello people of Southern Alberta, let us entertain you.  Let us kick your ass.”

The show starts with “Fat” and Martin gets some cool wild guitar sounds.  The backing vocals are great and the end of the song really jams out.

Tim’s “All the Same Eyes” seems to rock out a bit more than usual with some scorching guitars from Martin.  They follow it with “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” and they have fun with it.  Dave has to announce, “stop making faces, this is serious stuff.”  During the middle part, Dave chants, “Michael’s getting married,  Michael’s having a baby, Michael’s going down.”  They stretch out the “it feels good” part with a mellow jam and Martin doing some great falsetto.

Dave talks about Melville millionaires sticker on his guitar.  He says “we played in Melville, Saskatchewan–the best town in Canada.  Martin talks about them playing The National hotel.  They had two nights there and after the first night, someone spray painted outside of their door: “Go home noise pigs.”

Martin introduces “Sweet, Rich, Beautiful, Mine” and Dave says “and we’re not going home.”   Martin makes some great weird noises from his guitar and, once again, there’s more amazing backing vocals from the band.

Don announces: “We’ve got a new record out, it’s been out about a week.  This next song is on it, that last one was on it.  It’s available tonight.”

Then comes two songs from Tim.  It starts with “Bad Time to Be Poor” which has scratchy guitars from Martin.  It sounds great and Dave says “That’s getting played on the radio and we’re awfully happy about that and thanks to those who are playing it.”  Up next is the second Tim song with “Claire.”  Dave says this next song is from Whale Music, underwater music–aquarium rock, they’re calling it.

Dave says they played hockey last night at Max Bell Arena–home of the Calgary Canucks–Calgary’s greatest team. It was them and the Hip & the crews.  The score was 17-17.  It was a great game–we were fortified on ice.

After a rocking “Self Serve Gas Station, ” Dave says, “The people in Edmonton said the people in Calgary didn’t know how to rock.”  Tim: “That’s not true.”  It’s a great intro to another blistering version of “RDA” which they sing as “Rock Death Canada.”

Even though I love the Rheostatics’ longer sets, these 45 minute nuggets are really tasty.  And the band is in peak form at these shows.

[READ: March 4, 2019] On a Sunbeam

I really enjoyed Walden’s memoir Spinning, which was all about competitive skating and a young girl coming out.  So this story threw me a bit because it is about a crew of workers aboard a space ship whose job is to help repair derelict structures.

And it starts right in the middle with no explanation.  We just see a teenaged girl looking out a window at a floating city.  Her name is Mia and she is being brought to a crew that she’ll be working with for the foreseeable future.  The crew consists of Alma, the de facto leader, Char, the actual captain, Jules, a young girl who is actually Alma’s niece, and Elliot.  Elliot is a mechanical genius, is nonbinary (goes by “they” rather than he or she) and does not speak.

Mia and Jules bond pretty quickly, but it’s going to be tough work–up at 5AM and a lot to learn.

The story flashes back to five years earlier.  Mia is at school and, although a freshman, is already defiant.  She gets in trouble for skipping out on a mandatory assembly and sneaking into the gym to look at what turns out to be flying machines.   While in detention, she meets Grace.  Grace is shy but a defiant in her own way.  They form a pretty quick bond. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: March 11, 2019] Pinegrove

Back in 2017, I saw Pinegrove at the hot, sweaty First Unitarian Church.  The buzz around them had hit fever pitch and the crowd was insane.  In fact the whole night was a crazy sweatbox.  I couldn’t see very much so I was excited to get tickets for two more shows near the end of 2017.  Then their scandal broke and they cancelled their shows.

They have come back out of hiding for a few shows around the neighborhood.  I couldn’t get tickets to their very first shows.  Then came this trio of shows in Asbury Park.  I had actually somehow scored a ticket to Saturday night’s initial only show before realizing that we were going to Aurora that night.  I didn’t see that they’d added a show on Sunday until it was sold out.  But when they added a Monday show, I was there and managed to get a ticket.

Conventional wisdom says that the final show is always the best one.  I’m not sure if that’s true since former Pinegrove vocalist and full time Half Waif vocalist Nandi Rose Plunkett joined them on stage for a song on the first night.  But newly shorn Evan Stephens Hall (he went from shoulder length to buzzcut) promised that since it was the last night of their tour, they would be loose but still tight.  And that seems pretty apt. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: March 11, 2019] Poppies

I was supposed to see Pinegrove twice at the end of 2017.  Then their scandal broke and they cancelled their shows.  They have come back out of hiding for a few shows around the neighborhood.  I couldn’t get tickets to their very first shows.  Then came this trio of shows in Asbury Park.  I had actually somehow scored a ticket to Saturday night’s show before realizing that we were going to Aurora that night.  I didn’t see that they’d added a show on Sunday until it was sold out.  But when they added a Monday show, I was there and managed to get a ticket.

Poppies opened all three nights.

They are a four piece with May on lead vocals (primarily) and guitar and Ian on lead guitar and some lead vocals.  The thing that stood out for me about them was their utterly deadpan demeanor onstage.  In between songs the banter was nonexistent or really really dry.  “Hi, we’re Poppies.”  “This is a new song.”

They play a fascinatingly diverse style(s) of music.  Some of their songs were quiet with gentle guitars and May’s quieter vocals.  But some of the songs totally rocked out with some of Ian’s wilder guitar noises.  Some songs did both.

The set opened with a slightly discordant guitar and May’s whispered vocals.  I liked that she had on a blazer for the opening (and wide weft cords!) and then revealed her bright yellow shirt a few songs in.

I was concerned that an opening set of this kind of music would be rather tedious.  But then they opened it up with some good rocking guitar and May’s louder vocals. I especially loved the noises that Ian made on his guitar in the beginning of this song.

My favorite song of their set came as either the last or second to last of the night.  May said that  these next few songs were so new they didn’t have names yet.  They were the most enjoyable of the bunch to me.

That bodes well for future releases from them.