First Solo Concert: The Grateful dead

@livenationwest just asked:

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Which got me thinking – what was my first solo show? I’d been to earlier shows with family, and I knew that in 1992 I went to  a bunch of shows. But thanks to the miracle of the internet, I have discovered which was (I think) my first “solo” concert.

On March 20th, 1992, 3 friends and myself all did the “I’m staying at so-and-so’s house” trick with our parents, and traveled from Toronto to Hamilton to see The Grateful Dead at Copps Coliseum. I can’t recall if we were discovered or not, or if my parents know to this day (if not, surprise!) that I did this. I must not have gotten in immediate trouble if I did because my second concert concert was only a few days later – U2’s ZooTV show at Maple Leaf Gardens on March 24th, 1992 – although maybe my older sister took me to that concert? I can’t remember who it was with.

Those two concerts started about a 15-year run of my seeing lots of concerts that ended more or less with the birth of Liam (I still get to the occasional show, but at a much lower frequency).

What was your first show?


Tokyo Police Club & Friends at the Commodore

Thanks to tickets I won from Miss 604, I got to go see Tokyo Police Club, along with Dinosaur Bones & Said the Whale on Saturday night. As part of some promotion, these tickets included what was originally to be a soundcheck party with Tokyo Police Club, but instead became a pre-set backstage visit. I’ve been backstage a couple of times – about a decade ago when I saw Moby, at the Commodore, and also seeing Toad the Wet Sprocket at, I think, the Opera House in Toronto (the old concert venue on East King – not the current fancy opera house) (did I just age myself with that last band?). Both previous times, backstage was a party. Fun, relaxed, energetic. But both Moby & Toad were acts at their height at the time, whereas TPC are still figuring stuff out. So there was an awkward meet-and-greet lineup. I suppose I could have got my picture taken with them, or had them sign my pass, but I’m not really that sort of guy. Were I covering the show for someone, sure – but then I’d have interview questions. Instead we made awkward small-talk, and I think everyone involved was glad when it was over.

Coming back outside, I caught the end of Dinosaur Bones’ set. They were fun. I’d need to give them a dedicated listen to decide if I liked them, if they had anything original in their sound, but they were fun. After a short break, Said the Whale came on, and played the house like they were the headliners. Given that they were local, it might actually have made sense for them to headline this show. The crowd was right into them and the feeling seemed to be mutual. I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of theirs. As Day said, they’re a cross between Spirit of the West & Maroon 5: they don’t know if they’re a hell-raising party band or smooth radio-friendly pop. Currently, they fall awkwardly between. Their  two most well known songs, or at least the two I recognized from the radio, seemed to epitomize either end of that spectrum. For all that, however, I greatly enjoyed their set. I think a couple of years on the road and they will be an utterly amazing live act, regardless of the quality of their studio material.

As I said earlier, perhaps Said the Whale should have headlined. Tokyo Police Club, despite their great hooks and catchy lyrics that have made them a deserved success, are not well-seasoned on stage yet. Sure, they perform well – they ran through their set cleanly from what I could tell, but there was a certain something missing – a spark, a connection, a something that Said the Whale had instantly from the first chord. But I don’t want to sound like I didn’t like the set – I did. I’m a big fan of the material, which goes a long way to overcome a less-than-stellar stage presence. & they played a good mix of stuff from their last & current album, and I bopped along happily.

So overall verdict? Enjoyable but not standout.

Albums of the year, 2009

Update: Just found this, unpublished, in my drafts. I’m spitting it out, as is, for…posterity? anyway. these were apparently my 3 favourite albums of 2009. Stands to reason – they’re all still on heavy rotation.

So I’m getting to this super-last minute, due to a variety of real-life things, but here it is. Oddly, when I started this list, I was thinking that overall this was a pretty bad year, but then as I started getting into doing this, I found I’ve had a really hard time narrowing this down to just 10. I’m purposefully excluding all re-releases, re-mastered & so on and so forth, because, if there’s one thing my 2009 music collection is full of, its really, really fantastic re-releases of old releases.

Without further ado, here is the list, in alphabetical order:

Bitte Orca – Dirty Projector
This is perhaps one of the most surprising albums of the year for me. A difficult, proggy, sometimes dischordantly abrasive album that somehow transcends all those “difficult music” attributes to be a warm, lush, lovely listen time and time again.
Flaming Lips – Embryonic
Definitely gets my vote for the most unexpected re-incarnation of a band I’d written off as no longer critically relevant. It’s dark, it’s heavy, it’s a non-stop assault on your ears that is just incredible from start to finish. Like most of the best albums, I didn’t really appreciate this one until I stopped working, put on the headphones and really listened to it.
Girs – Album
This album is sort of a Gen X masterpiece – a detached, perhaps ironic look at love, relationships, and the question of just what exactly to do with one’s life. Also, the first, and most x-rated video I’ve ever seen.

Musical Nostalgia

It’s happened. I’m officially old. I’m looking about the contemporary musical landscape, and most bands are coming up short against the bands of my youth. I miss Grunge. Well, not really Grunge per se, but the ethos & certain bands. I miss the manic creativity and conflicted stardom of Nirvana. I miss Kurt Cobain’s anguished howls and menacing singing. I miss Pearl Jams us vs. them attitude. I’m happy they’ve found their bliss and are loving life and rocking out, but I’m bummed that Eddie Vedder doesn’t seem to mind being held in our debt anymore. The conflicted anger at rapt fans singing along while they worked out their twin demons of wanting the joyous communal experience, while rejecting the stardom that came with it made those early Pearl Jam shows fraught with Tension. I wish someone today could combine a snarl with beautiful melodies like Billy Corgan & the Smashing Pumpkins did. They mined that vein until there was nothing left. On the flipside of Smashing Pumpkins was Soundgarden, with Chris Cornell’s joyous wails lending weight to his otherwise tortured growl powering through most of the songs. I loved listening to the fem-rock (riotgrrl?) of Sleater Kinner, L7, Breeders. Who today has picked up the agro-rap-rock rants of Rage Against the Machine? Hell, even wannabes like Stone Temple Pilots had serious vocal chops.

Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder, From the Official Pearl Jam Flickr feed

The late 90s were rife with bands making millions performing radio-friendly imitations of their still-on-the-edge predecessors. Indie rock was a peppier response to that schlock. And while contemporary indie rock is vibrant, multi-hued collage, I haven’t heard bands in the past few years that so effortlessly pull out that directionless, generational anger as their early 90s predecessors. I love the ironic detachment of the Strokes, the dance rock revolution of Franz Ferdinand, the melodrama of Gnarls Barkley. I couldn’t be happier about the “new folk”, whether it’s the sweet, bluegrass tinge of Mumford & Sons or the freak-folk Devendra Banhart – but it’s not angst-rock.

I think a large part of what’s missing to me is that so many of these new bands just seem so fucking cool – like they’ve all got it figured out. They have a pose, a look. They know how to talk to the press, how to manage their media, how to deal. It may be an elaborate act, and they might not. They still say idiotic things, overdose, are stupid, but they tend to present well. I remember watching interviews on the New Music and these guys (and girls) just seemed so unaware of how to present themselves, and still tried to come up with real, hard-thought answers rather than already having a quip ready. It’s possible that their skin was crawling purely because of withdrawal, but I like to think it was more than the drugs. It was the mindset. It was the punk DIY ethos mixed with a genuine desire to affect change for the most part.

So while I continue to find new music I really dig, today, today I miss early 90s rock.

…just don’t get me started on the state of techno

Simple pleasures in iTunes

It’s a silly little thing, but one of favourite serendipitous experiences is when, while listening to iTunes DJ, iTunes plays a track that is  a song-intro from a live show, or a radio interview. However, rather than immediately play the next song from that album (i.e., the song being introduced), it plays a wholly other song. Bonus points for the next song if it is somewhat similar, but not by the same artist. I like to imagine this being a “real”, albeit totally abstract re-interpretation of the song being played. Here’s a pair of examples from today:

I have a “live in studio” album from Iron & Wine at KCRW. At one point, Sam Beam introduces “Upward Over the Mountain”, talking a little about it. However, instead of that song,, iTunes instead played “King Harvest” by The Band. Which has some thematic similarities, but is otherwise diferent.

Or, from the “Live At The Gorge” album, by Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder introduces “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, and instead of that, iTunes actually played “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” from my bootleg of R.E.M at Milton Keynes – this mix gets even more bonus points because both tracks are live, with crowd noises and the cheering was more or less seamless.

It’s silly, I know, but this sort of coincidence (moments of zen, to steal from the Daily Show?) do wonders for me. Reaffirm my faith, if you will.

What’re your musical moments of zen?

Albums of the year, 2010

Proving Jeremy Keith’s assertion that the best place to store upcoming posts is the submit button, I see that my 2009 best of is still a draft. Not this year’s! I dug 2010, musically. Definitely several albums came out that will remain on heavy rotation for quite a while. So, in alphabetical order, here’s my 2010 albums of the year:

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

I said to Leah at some point that this album sums up how I feel about where I live. I dig my house, not sure I like where it is. And this album is that too. 30-something angst , a nuanced look at the suburbs as a proxy for what it is to be older, but still retaining that idealism of a few years earlier.

Beach House: Teen Dream

A dreamy, folk/pop/indie rock album that, if I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure what it’s all about. But I can’t get enough of the delicately layered textures, the warmth of the sound.

Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot – the Son of Chico Dusty

So this album is probably the most fun album of the year. And really show just how much of a driving force behind the Outkast sound Big Boi really was. Mining the same traditional space as Outkast did, but pushing forward the sound to be contemporary & fun, this album is worth a listen even if you don’t generally like hip-hop (which would include me)

The Black Keys: Brothers

Definitely the album I’ve played the most this year, as evidenced that Liam can now sing along to almost every track. I’d say this is likely my personal favourite of the year. Fantastic bluesy, dirty rock.

Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma

An over-the-top, masterful collage of various elements of techno (Drum’n’bass,house,downtempo), not to mention jazz amongst other genres, this album should be have been an unlistenable mess. Instead I suspect it is the album that producers will be trying to emulate for years to come. Complicated, intelligent music that rewards multiple listens.

LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening

Somewhen, James Murphy learned the art of melody, adding it into his already fairly full bag of tricks to make this album just that much better from his previous. Even silly tracks like ‘Pow Pow’ are somehow more polished than any of his earlier throw-away tracks. And tracks like ‘I Can Change’ continue to sum-up 30-something life better than virtually anyone else.

Owen Pallett: Heartland

Nerdy, both musically & lyrically, this album demands multiple listens paying close attention on headphones. It was a grower not a shower for me – I almost dismissed it after first listen, then, listening again on my headphones walking around town, I discovered both just how bizarre and how incredible it is. Do yourself a favour: find some alone time and dedicate it to this album.

Robyn: Body Talk (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2)

Pop at its best! My total guilty pleasure of the year, although I feel somewhat vindicated by how much love these are getting. There’s also a slew of pretty impresive remixes of a lot of these songs out there. If nothing else, check out both “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do” and “Dancing On My Own”.

Vampire Weekend: Contra

When I first bought this, I didn’t like it much, and I ‘shelved’ it (well, didn’t play it for a while). Then I started hearing “Run” on the radio some, found myself really enjoying it, and this fall, dug it out again. And I’m so glad I did. A much more mature, confident album than their debut, they seem to have embraced their contradictions and found a new phrasing that’s really working for me.

So I know that’s only 9, not the traditional 10, but I’m stopping there. Instead, here’s a few other albums that I liked, but couldn’t figure out how much in order to include them above. Honorable mentions, if you will:

  • James Blake: The Bells Sketch/CMYK/Klavierwerke EPs.
  • Janelle Monae: The Archandroid
  • Neil Young: Le Noise
  • Optimo: Fabric 52
  • Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz
  • Girls: Broken Dreams Club
  • Holy Fuck: Latin

Review: Wolf Parade & Moools at the Vogue Theatre

I was pretty stoked about last night’s concert. Each of Wolf Parade’s albums have made into pretty high rotation with me, and when I last saw them live, opening for…I want to say The Walkmen, but I’m not sure that’s right, their energy was great. That carried through to last night’s show as well, although it wasn’t without fault.

Those dots in the lights? That's Wolf Parade

I had never heard of The Mools before. They’re an indie-rock trio from Tokyo who play complicated, jazz-infused rock. I loved it. Last night I tweeted that they were lead by a “stealth puppet-master drummer”. Which I think needs clarification. Their drummer was very understated, a surprisingly still drummer. At first, I wasn’t that impressed. But then they started messing with time signatures, and the lead singer/guitarist went off on these crazy, amazing solos and I noticed, like in all truly great rock bands, it all started and ended with the drummer. So thus the puppet-master, reeling out the other parts of the band, then, as the solos come to a close, bring them back in. Definitely see them live if you can, and check out their music.

After a short intermission which really only served to heat up the theatre even more as sweaty bodies milled about in uncomfortably close quarters, Wolf Parade came out. And they rocked hard. They really, really gave it a lot, which, as an audience member is always really rewarding when you can tell a band is really bringing it. Towards the end of the night they talked about this – that playing Vancouver is sort of like playing a hometown show and historically they had choked but were really happy with this show.

The pacing was pretty good, mostly alternating older & newer tracks. If I have a quibble, and I do, but it’s a minor one,  is that they don’t yet seem to know how to run a concert. They’re still  a fairly young band, and haven’t been headlining for that long, and it shows. There were some overly long silences, some awkward-odd as opposed to awkward-hip interactions with the crowd.

LCD Soundsystem at Malkin Bowl: my review

Glowing mirrorball
LCD Soundsystem: not as brilliant as their mirrorball

My first show of the year last night (wow – so sad that that’s true!). But I waited for a good one. Well, an ok one,  seeing LCD Soundsystem last night at Malkin Bowl. Holy Ghost! opened. They were fun, but eminently forgettable – they mined the 80’s sound, but didn’t really do too much with it. Which is a shame – I’d listened to a bunch of their stuff before the show and it had been fun. Possibly they just don’t translate live well. Or at least not in a setting like Malkin Bowl. In a tightly packed sweaty nightclub it would’ve made me want to dance.

The weather all day had been terrible, so I was expecting to get soaked, but fortunately the rain stopped on our way down, and we even saw a little blue sky. Pre-show we went for a drink at Stanley’s Park Bar & Grill, which was fun – completely full of concert goers, they a good system of a beer garden with  smokies & corn-on-the-cob grilling on the barbeque.

LCD in lights
In the gloaming

LCD Soundsystem opened well, apologized for being so far back on the stage (they’d moved all the equipment under cover given the uncertainty of the weather – although I’ve yet to see a show at Malkin Bowl where that wasn’t the case), and got on with it. I’m a huge fan, and they played 2 of 3 songs I really wanted to hear during the set (“Daft Punk is playing at my house & “New York I love You” to end it, they didn’t play “North American Scum”), but I’m not sure I’d call it an particularly inspired set. They hit the notes, they did their thing, but they never went off the rails in either a good or bad way. It’s odd to be disappointed because an act is tight and on their game, but I want something more from a live show. Particularly from an act like LCD Soundsystem where they could so easily play with their songs a little. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did enjoy it, but it wasn’t stand-out by any means.

The Hold Steady at The Vogue Theatre

It’s hard not to love The Hold Steady live. They work so hard up there and look to be having so much fun that it’s infectious. That being said, I’m still not sure I actually like the Hold Steady. They remind a lot of Great Big Sea, in that they both sound & act like better-than-average college-town bar-bands that somehow made it far bigger than they themselves ever expected to.

The crowd at the show was quite a mix – young scenesters just discovering the joy of drunken fun beyond all the serious posing & older Gen X’ers reminiscing about when they could still go out and get drunk and go somewhere else for one more drink before heading home. There was an enormous man next to me who looked to be in his 40s, his nose already proudly showing off its broken capillaries who kept tossing back cans of Budweiser, but he seemed to know every word to every song and was loving every one. Up front, there were fist-pumping, hand-clapping and joyful sing-alongs by the packed throngs.

Their lead singer reminds of Woody Allen, if he was younger & had formed a rock band – he’s nebbish & twitchy and immediately adorable (Alternate opinion: He looks like a coked-up Seth Klein). On the flipside, I don’t doubt he’d drop you with a vicious head-butt if you pissed him off. He runs a good stage show, which is important as the lead guitarist, who looked somewhat like Wash from Serenity, was only a shadow on stage. They keyboardist, who looked somewhat like a re-animated zombie from a pre-WWII speakeasy jazz band, had character, but it was a study in cool, from his twirled moustache & immaculate pin-stripe suit, down to his just-too-calculated little dances as he played the keyboards. Were he not so good at what he was doing, was the music not so infectious, it would’ve been too much. As such though, it was a great counter-point to the workman-like appeal of the rest of the band.

I find myself continuously coming back to this idea of a bar-band with the Hold Steady, which made the venue just a little bizarre. I said last night that they looked & sounded like they belonged in that roadhouse bar from The Blues Brothers where the band played behind a cage and there was endless bottles being flung at them, and fights all around but surely, surely they’d win the drunks over and we’d all be singing “Boys Go For Looks/Girls go for status” together by the end of the night.

Goodbye Richard’s on Richards

Kings of Convenience 7
Kings of Convenience, March 11th, 2005

Today is Richard’s on Richards last day. I shan’t be attending – it’s actually been over a year since I was last there. But I have many, many fond memories of that place, and did want to commemorate it.

I went to my first Richard’s on Richards show within a week or two of arriving in Vancouver, back in August 1995.  My girlfriend and I was staying at Chantal’s, a friend from Toronto, above a pawn shop on Granville, near Helmecken. I was nowhere near old enough to get in to the show, and looked young to boot. I don’t recall if I came in via the “smoking doors”, the double-doors at the front, or via the back door, but I remember sweating bullets nearly the entire show that some bouncer would know that I hadn’t come in the front door. I don’t even recall the show. In my memory, it was Maceo Parker or Bootsy Collins, but with another thought I now doubt that.

Since that first show, I believe I’ve seen another 70-odd shows at Richards – until Liam was born, I was there nearly every other month, if not more often. Many of my favourite bands I saw for the first time at Richard’s – sometimes, I knew nothing at all of the band, and only came to be a fan of them later. Such was the case for when I first saw the Walkmen, whom I believe were opening for someone else at the time. Others, I was a fan of, only to be disappointed in their live show – like Phoenix, whom I still quite enjoy their studio work, but won’t see live again.

Like many others, the washrooms at Richard’s were something of an eye-opener. While I’ve been in much worse bathrooms, they were probably the most disgusting washrooms in Vancouver.  And yet, inevitably, you’d find some joker snorting coke of counters I wouldn’t wipe my worst enemy’s face across, you’d find condoms floating in the toilets, and most bizarre, always a couple of people that seemed to just be hanging out in there.

The lounge upstairs, I’d inevitably trip over someone I knew half-passed out from something, or become momentary friends with whomever I was standing in line with waiting for world’s slowest bartender at the upstairs bar. After a few visits, I started to show up at shows really early, so I could pull a prime stool on the balcony across from the stage, and would sit there stalwart for the entire show lest someone steal it. It didn’t seem to matter if you were with someone who could hold the stool for you – if you were gone for too long, you’d return to find someone else sitting in it.

It is my belief that there were 2 different sound crews that worked Richards. Crew A was fantastic – the mix was right, the levels were perfect, and made every act sound better. Crew B was clearly manned by a bunch of deaf monkeys who’d only ever seen pictures of a sound-bboard in a magazine. There was never anything in between there – only great sound, or shitty sound. Some bands, like the Walkmen and Bloc Party were able to rise above the shitty sound and still deliver stellar shows (actually, thinking back, the shitty sound for the Walkmen may have been on purpose – they seem to thrive with a muddy mix). Some bands, like …and You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead just sounded like shit. I don’t believe that I would love the Decemberists or Franz Ferdinand as much now if it weren’t for those 2 perfect shows at Richard’s where the sound was great, they were tight and the crowd love it.

The closing of Richard’s on Richards really marks the end of a chapter in my life – it is the last of the live venues in Vancouver that formed a sort of circuit in my teens & twenties, having outlasted all the others by several years. So long, Richard’s, and thanks for all the memories.

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