Sharon Van Etten in Toronto

October 23, 2014 at 6:31 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Ooh, this is way late, and there’s a lot to more important stuff to cover too, but if I don’t publish this now I never will.


I’ll send you a love letter straight from my heart, fucker. Do you know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fuckin’ gun, fucker. If you receive a love letter from me, you are fucked forever. Do you understand, fuck? I’ll send ya straight to Hell, fucker!

Whenever I listen to a Sharon Van Etten record, I get the feeling she’s channeling Frank Booth from the movie Blue Velvet. There’s a rawness, a danger in her words that approaches the fearsome Frank. And earlier this month Ms. Van Etten brought that danger to the Opera House.

New Zealand’s Tiny Ruins opened the show. The three-piece played an engaging pop-folk set, which unfortunately was drowned in the cavernous Opera House. The set started well, but I came to feel that it would have worked a lot better in a club like the Rivoli. (I remember a similar experience seeing the Cowboy Junkies at Ontario Place years back).

The first Sharon Van Etten song I heard was “Serpents” from her Tramp album. It’s not a representative song. It’s far punkier than most of her stuff, but it hooks you just the same. The Opera House set contained a lot of material from her new, and quite simply amazing album, Are We There. Van Etten joked with the audience between songs and then song after song astounded. For her final encore, she played the heartbreaking  “Every Time the Sun Comes Up.”

I was really looking forward to the show, since the last few times Van Etten came to town, I’d been unable to attend. It was worth the wait.

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The Price of Gas

October 15, 2014 at 12:48 am (Uncategorized)

Hey, post number 800!

As with most other motorists, I drive with one eye on the road and one eye of the price of gas. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that  any problem, anywhere in the world, means the price of gas will go up.

  • Vladimir Putin gets a cold – prices go up.
  • Sanctions against Iran – prices go up.
  • Rain in Texas – prices go up
  • And of course, holiday weekend, prices go up

Well yesterday was Thanksgiving in Canada , and for the last couple of years, gas prices for regular have been between $1.30 a litre and $1.39 a litre (sorry, if you don’t understand the metric system, but it really does make more sense. Join the rest of the world. And yes, I am spelling it litre) 

Yesterday, the price of gas nearest me was $1.16 a litre!

To make matters more confusing, the fact that ISIS is making millions of dollars a day from the oil fields it controls makes me wonder. Is ISIS reducing the price of gas, and would people be in such a panic over ISIS if it meant continued cheap gas?

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Fall Leaves Fall

October 5, 2014 at 8:26 pm (Uncategorized)

Whenever I watch murder mysteries on TV, it’s the person walking their dog who discovers the body. I never really thought about that until I started walking my own dog. We travel the neighbourhood several times a day, and I’m struck by the umber of times, something new, something not quite the same, catches my eye on the trip.

Last week, in the early evening I was walking the dog. The most common route we take brings me past a seniors’ centre, and as we went by we walked into a shower of red and orange leaves drifting gently from an overhanging tree. It was fall.

It’s funny how it sneaks up on you. From summer’s gentle fade in late August into September and back to school, the possibility of Autumn never really seems to register for me. Then, there’s a brief moment of brilliant colours and we begin the trudge toward Winter.

The morning after the leaves fell the roads were covered with decay. The weather was colder.  About a third of the way through the walk, I became acutely aware of the need for a scarf and gloves. There’s no sense feeling nostalgic for those now lost days, there’s other things ahead.

Pumpkins and Halloween decorations now dot the houses.

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Music Notes: September 2014

September 30, 2014 at 9:54 pm (Uncategorized)

Ears wide, here’s good stuff.

1. Karen O – Crush Songs

Mmm. The debut album by Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman Karen O needs more than a couple of listens to appreciate its charms. The first couple of go-around are strung-strung, winsome singing, but after a few plays, its charms emerge. Less than half an hour-long means either you got ripped off or you can listen to it over and over again. (I’m in the latter camp)

2. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters  – Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar

There are much more detailed and insightful reviews of this album than this short, so if you want to know all the ins and outs, read them (Both Mojo and Uncut are featuring Plant these days too). Know this, this record is really quite sensational.  Rock, folk, African influences are all in abundance and mesh perfectly with Plant’s sensibilities.  My current favourite record. Oh and check out Plant singing “Duke of Earl” with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight show. Amazing.

3. XTC -Fossil Fuel 

Nice 2-disc singles collection from 77 to 92. XTC were one of those clever pop bands that when someone said name a song, you invariably mentioned their biggest hit (probably “Making Plans for Nigel” or “Dear God”), but when you listened there were all these great other songs too.  Solid investment.

4. Echo and the Bunnymen – Porcupine

Ah, the difficult third album. I only saw the Bunnymen once and it was promoting this album – 1984 at the Concert Hall along with Let’s Active and Breeding Ground. The band was terrific, and this album is pretty good too. It doesn’t reach the heights of Crocodiles, but with songs like “The Cutter” and “The Back of Love,” it makes an honourable effort. The current CD version has half a dozen alternative versions. .

5. Arctic Monkeys – AM

My son is learning guitar, and one of the bands he expressed interest in was the Arctic monkeys. So I got this for him, but he’d already listened on you tube and concluded he didn’t like it too much. Me? Yeah, a lot of it has that same easy groove meaning the songs all sound a bit alike, but that’s a strength as it stretches over the course of the record. For the record though, I hate the recording of John Cooper Clarke’s poem, “I Want to be Yours.”

6. Shonen Knife – Overdrive

How many songs have Shonen Knife written about kitty-cats anyway? Like the Ramones and many other fine bands, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Some good, some great, some you won’t play very much. Overdrive is a fine addition to the set. (Should mention, the songs sounded great live!)

7. Jad Fair and Danielson – Solid Gold

As I mentioned in my review of their show earlier this month, Jad Fair and a gospel-pop band doesn’t sound like my thing, but it works. Jad’s great heart-wrenching vocals and Danielson’s cheery pop meshed perfectly.

8. Jad Fair and Phono-Comb – Monsters, Lullabies and the Occasional Flying Saucer

Pretty much what you’d expect from Jad Fair recording with former members of Shadowy Men. Surf out! Picked this one up with the memory of the show still fresh in my mind

9.The Jam -All Mod Cons

The story of  All Mod Cons is that after the disappointing second Jam album, Paul Weller turned in a third to Polydor. The rep told him it was rubbish. Weller then retreated, wrote new songs and came out with this masterpiece. “Tube Station,” “A Bomb in Wardor Street,” “English Rose,” and many more. Yes, there’s a nice 2-disc set, but really all you need is this one.

10. The Replacements – Tim

Now that the Mats are playing again, it’s a good idea to pull out the back catalogue. Tim is my favourite of their records. A good mix of the rocky, the funny and the sweet. Remember that video for “Bastards of Young.” Yeah, right.

Oh and East End Babylon The Story of the Cockney Rejects was going to be on this list too, but the review kept growing and growing, and will appear at some future date.

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On the Road Again

September 28, 2014 at 10:32 pm (Uncategorized)

A different job now means I’m driving further each day. Last year my place of employment was a mere eight minutes from my house, but now it’s 25 minutes of highway driving each way. Not terrible though. I drive against traffic and the length of the trip means I get to listen to CBC’s Metro Morning or the entirety of “Sister Ray.” :)

But other people’s commute isn’t so pleasant. Toronto, it seems, has one of the longest average commutes in North America (looking at the highways in LA or Washington I find that hard to believe, but I’m sure someone has figured this out).  Still, it is a problem. So much so that traffic and transit, leaving aside the Ford Brothers Circus, is the number one issue in this year’s municipal election.

As fate would have it, I was thumbing through the Ken Knabb’s revised Situationist International Anthology and came across the Situationist “Theses on Traffic.”

Two in particular jumped out:


Commuting time, as Le Corbusier rightly noted, is a surplus labor which correspondingly reduces the amount of “free” time.


We must replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel as a pleasure.

Read the entire article here

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Let’s Knife at the Silver Dollar

September 28, 2014 at 2:02 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

It’s been many years since I’ve been to the Silver Dollar on Spadina Avenue just north of College, but the bar was pretty much as I remember it. Sure, the stage was on the side now, but the edgy ambiance of the place hadn’t changed at all; I think the last band I saw there was Pussy Galore, and we got in a fight on the streetcar on the way home, but I digress. And it’s been many years since I saw Shonen Knife. The band was touring in support of its new album Overdrive, so why not?

First up were Toronto locals The B. B. Guns.  Any band that features fiddle and tambourine in addition to the usual rockist influences  is worth a second look, but the B.B. Guns did more than that. They created a swirling psych-punk that reminded me of the Pandoras or maybe the Bangles in their Paisley underground origins. Definitely worth checking out their self-titled EP. Man, am I getting old or did they play really loud?

And there was no respite from the sonic assault with Mexican Slang. The three-piece describe themselves as “saccharine and vicious” (you can hear pretty much everything on their bandcamp page ), and it’s not untrue. The vocals were a little too deep in the mix, but the searing guitar and driving rhythm more than made up for it. Two for two!

Habibi means “my beloved” in Arabic. The band are based in Brooklyn, although several of them embers are originally from Detroit. Like the B.B. Guns there is a psychedelic edge to Habibi’s sound, but blended with a love of sixties girl-groups and a Middle-eastern influence. Great sound and a little quieter too (or the hearing damage has set in).

Last up were Shonen Knife. Now in their thirtieth year and down to one original member (singer-guitarist Naoko Yamano), the band showed no sign of slowing down. Opening song “Banana Chips” dated back to  1998’s Happy Hour, and quickly followed by a sampling of material throughout their career including “Riding on the Rocket,” “”Bear Up Bison,” and ” Flying Jelly Attack”   The songs from the new record were not so immediate as the hits, but we still bounced along happily. All three members took lead vocals at one point or another although Naoko took the lion’s share, ending each song “Arigato!”.

After what seemed like five minutes but in reality was an hour-long set, the band returned for a one-song encore “Tortoise Brand Pot Cleaner.”

Shonen Knife are a lot like a box of smarties. Listening to their songs, it’s impossible to have just one; before you know it the whole box is gone. While it’s a little sad, you still have that warm feeling inside. And with Shonen Knife, you can listen to the record again!

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A Game of Fords

September 23, 2014 at 9:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Its true, the Toronto hit show’s current season is ending, but unfortunately, it seems as if it is still popular enough to avoid cancellation.

OK, OK. When I saw Globe and Mail Marcus Gee use this expression in a column last week, two thoughts struck me:

1. Did he think of that himself or did an uncredited assistant?

2. Why is this the first time I’ve heard the expression?

For those who aren’t hiding under a rock, the deal was this: Current Mayor Rob Ford was running for re-election. His brother Doug, current ward 2 councilor (Rob’s old seat) was not running for re-election, but their nephew  Michael was running to replace his uncle. Got to keep that brand alive!

And then…Rob was diagnosed with a tumour and dropped out of the race for mayor. So… retiring brother Doug switched into the race for mayor, while Rob registered to run in ward 2, and Michael was relegated to running for school board. The cynicism behind it is really quite stunning. I wonder if the Fords have a dog that’s available to run. (Sorry for that).

It seems unlikely to work though. While Rob will almost certainly be re-elected to his old seat, and nephew Michael will get by on the Ford name, Doug is almost certain to lose. For one thing he is widely seen as more (if it’s possible) as an obnoxious bully that his brother, and while it seems likely that a large swath of the so-called Ford nation will support him,  he will be unable to draw support beyond it.

As an interesting side bar, when I got home last night and checked my messages, I had a robo-call from Douggie inviting me to Ford-fest, an annual free barbeque. Now I recall one Christmas, Doug handing out twenties to voters defending himself saying he hadn’t had time to buy Tim Hortons gift cards. The message didn’t say whether people would receive money if they attended, so I’m uncertain whether to bother going :)

But despite the antics of the Ford family, the mayoralty election is style (or lack of) over substance. Leaving aside the well-documented buffoonery of the Ford, who are the other candidates? John Tory, a former mayoralty candidates, former Progressive Conservative leader and current radio personality has a large lead over over candidates.

Tory has positioned himself as a smoother alternative to Ford, with little political difference over the fundamental needs of capital. And while it looks to be a coronation, Tory has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the past. Most notably when as PC leader he mused that a PC governemnt would fund all religious schools.

Olivia Chow, once the woman who would topple Ford, has slid into third place. Instead of playing to her social-democratic base and the old David Miller coalition, Chow too tried to position herself as a reasonable alternative to Ford painting herself as an immigrant who knew the value of a dollar. The leftist International Socialists and Socialist Action organizations have noted these positions too, but instead of seeing Chow for what she is, they have lined up to give advice to how she can reinvent her campaign.

While it seems unlikely a Ford will sit in the Mayor’s chair come the election, neither tory nor Chow will make a fundamental difference. Tyrion Lannister once noted that most people don’t care who is King or which God said king follows. They just want to be left alone to live their lives. But they never are.

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Jad Fair in the Dance Cave

September 13, 2014 at 9:51 pm (Uncategorized)

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Dance Cave,” I said to one of the guys working the door as we stood outside Lee’s Place, him smoking, me waiting.

“That’s because you’re not 19,” he replied.

True enough. But as they let me and a few other early birds in, I realized I had in fact been to the Cave (curiously located on the top floor of the building that housed Lee’s – the Dance Attic anyone?) when I worked for Concert Productions International. I had gone to see Counting Crows or Cracker or someone like that and we had briefly wandered upstairs to see what was happening there.

Nevertheless, it seemed more than a little odd that Jad Fair, the genius behind Half Japanese, was playing there with Danielson a gospel- pop band from New Jersey along with Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub.

First up. Bad news, Norman Blake was unable to play having developed problems with his hand. But, still the prospect of Jad Fair and Kramer in a small club (the Dance Cave is about the size of the Rivoli – maybe 150 people) was good enough to overcome that disappointment.

I saw Half Japanese sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. The band was touring with Velvet underground drummer Maureen Tucker to promote one of her solo albums. The band did a solo set then played as her back-up band. And yes, they were fantastic.

Fair has recorded dozens of albums over his career: with Half Japanese, as solo and as collaborations. Recently Jad recorded Solid Gold Heart with Danielson for the Sounds Familyre label. It’s a great Beatlesque pop record (although I’ll confess, I’m not a fan of the Beatles) with Jad in fine form. During the fifty minute set, they blew through the record, as the small but appreciative crowd danced along.  There couldn’t have been more than forty people in the club, but it made for a more intimate experience.

For the inevitable encore, Jad and the band returned to perform an inspiring version of “This could be the night.” I don’t know what mystical energy was coursing through Jad during that song, but it lifted us up and we were drawn into something beautiful.  And all too quickly it was over. Jad and the members of Danielson wandered into the audience chatting with attendees as the crowd slipped away and the DJ arrived to set up his stuff for those 19 year-olds.

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Hell in Session?

September 8, 2014 at 9:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Joss Whedon probably wasn’t the first to work with the high-school-is-hell analogy, and he probably won’t be the last.

Still, it’s funny that when school gets up and running, certain vintage posts on this blog get a lot more hits. For a long time Song of the Worms was a big hit,  but recently my notes on Goya are getting a lot of hits. Someone has assigned homework!

Funnily enough, I’m in a creative writing class at the moment and had to bring in a passage to read. I read the part in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus where Faustus meets Mephistopheles for the first time. Mephistopheles admits he is damned and asserts he is in Hell.

How can this be asks Faustus, you’re right here.

To which Mephistopheles replies, for anyone who has seen the face of God and tasted the joys of Heaven, to be denied these things is Hell. Always liked that part. It might also go some way to explaining why Buffy was so cranky in season six.

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Vegas Baby: A Tale of State Capitalism

September 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm (Uncategorized)

I work in the public sector, and so in the eyes of many, I work in the non-productive sector.  My job eats up “their” tax dollars, and produces little in return. For, in the mantra of today, only the market can save us, only the market creates jobs, only the market can save us.

Uh huh.

Time was once, meetings at my workplace had food. Coffee was free. Life was good (OK, maybe I’m idealizing the past a little). Today, not so much. Now if it seems like I’m whining about a free muffin, hang on. I do have a point. The rationale is that the public doesn’t want to see its tax dollars spent on feeding public servants.  And if you look at the way that say Brampton city councilors and Mayor Susan Fennell  used public funds you might have a point (Fennel expensed $186,000 over a three-year period including coffee and $1 I-tunes downloads).  After all, it irks when you see heads of charities enjoying luxuries paid for by donations, doesn’t it?

But it’s a false parallel: the hardworking private sector and the wasteful public sector.

My wife is going on a business trip to Las Vegas tomorrow. It’s for a conference there. It’s being held at a nice hotel with a casino. I won’t mention the hotel, but it’s nicer than any I’ve stayed in. Air fare, the room and the registration are covered. (I’m not absolutely certain if she eats the peanuts from the mini-bar whether she will have to pay for them).  You can see the expenses mount up. Business expenses.

Expenses which any mildly skilled accountant will be able to find a deduction for. And yet, these are a legitimate part of capitalism. My point here then, is not to suggest that the private sector is just as wasteful as the public sector, but to suggest the “free” market is a bit of a myth. There is only capitalism. Sure it has different forms, but there is no wall separating private and public.

The line about Vegas is that it was built in the desert by the mob. No doubt today, the mob could have applied for government subsidies.

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