Music Notes October 2013

October 31, 2013 at 2:13 am (Uncategorized)

Spooky sounds coming at you. OK not so scary, but worth your time.

1. Pup – Pup

I plugged the single “Reservoir” last month, and the full album is worth having as well. Nothing quite as strong as that single, but the rest of the album is full of solid punk rock sounds.

2, Kid Congo Powers and his Pink Monkey Bits- Haunted Head

OK, maybe this is in time for Halloween. The latest solo album from the former guitar player with the Cramps, Gun Club and Bad Seeds. It’s a mix of the punk, blues rockabilly and surf that Powers has played for most of his career. There’s nothing on here that will turn you head and make you go wow, but it’s a really fine album. OK, the vocals are mixed a little too low for my taste. Still,  if you really want to hear the songs, live is the place to be (review of last week’s show at the Horseshoe pending)

3. Brother Paul – Blind Spot

Full review on this one pending as well. I mentioned this a month or so back. Brother Paul is a local blues guitarist and mate of mine. He’s put together an album of soulful originals along with a couple of covers. A moody and atmospheric disc, it’s a good chance to support local music. Available at Sunrise Music on Yonge Street in Toronto, or drop me a line.

4.  TV Smith – To Heligoland and Beyond (Tour Diaries volume 4)

For those of you out there who are Adverts fans. One of the great things about the band was TV Smith’s lyrics, always clever and with keen insight. I bought the first volume of diaries and they are full of great stories. Get the book through TV’s website 

5. The Ponys – Turn the Lights Out

Mmm. The review of the Bare Mutants album on Pitchfork suggests that Jered Gummere is, dare I say it, a one trick pony. If that’s true, then it’s a pretty good trick. In this, the final Ponys album, the band continues to produce garage pop anthems. Yeah, a lot of the songs, kind of do sound the same, but who cares. If we like it, we call it a “sound.” If we don’t, well, all the songs sound the same.  It’s a great sound, but don’t trust me: listen yourself good.

6. Pussy Galore – Corpse Love

Came across this last week. Demos and early recordings by the band. With song titles so genuinely unpleasant and shocking, I can’t repeat many of them here, it seemed like something that needed to be in my possession. Not for the faint of heart and with a sound quality to match, the collection contains mostly originals, but with a few Rolling Stones covers thrown in. Very hard to find this stuff now.

7. Leslie Spit Treeo – Don’t Cry too Hard

Sorting through a box of something last week, and I found this CD tucked away. And what a little gem it is. LST were Queen Street buskers who played an energetic folk-rock, in the late 80s/early 90s. I seem to recall seeing them a few times in that time (maybe at the Cameron House?). This album contains a few goodies like “Catch a Highway”,”Real”, and their mini-hit reworking of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” Singer Laura Hubert subsequently released three solo jazz records. Did not know that.

8. Flamin’ Groovies – Groovies Greatest Grooves

Not a new album, this collection contains more than one misstep (that cover of “River Deep Mountain High” for example), but it does contain “Shake Some Action” and “Slow Death.” The Groovies play Lee’s Palace next week, and I’m sure it won’t hold a candle to their glory days, but I never saw them then,. and I really want to hear those songs live.

9. Oil City Confidential

Yeah! Finally a domestic release on DVD for this bio-pic on the amazing Dr. Feelgood. The best local band in the world.

10.  John “Gypie” Mayo

And while we anticipate that film and marvel at the glory of the Feelgoods and in particular Wilko Johnson, we should pause to remember the passing this month of John “Gypie” Mayo. Mayo was the man who replaced Wilko, and who co-wrote their biggest hit single “Milk and Alcohol.” He died on October 23 at the age of 62.

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October 29, 2013 at 11:06 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s a bit of a drag that when I leave for work in the morning, it;’s still dark.  It’s even more of a drag that when I get to work, it’s still dark. And the clocks go back soon, which means it’ll be dark when I get home too. (I know, there’s that hour in the morning, but it doesn’t seem to last too long)

Even so, there’s something about this season, the nights drawing in, the change of the leaves, Halloween, that appeals to the Smiths fan in me. (sidebar an acquaintance managed to snag a copy of Morrissey’s autobiography – I’m quite jealous)

Here’s my favourite autumn poem. By Emily Bronte.
Fall Leaves Fall
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

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Lou Reed

October 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

What to say about the passing of Lou Reed today at age 71?

Reed, the band he founded, the Velvet Underground, and his subsequent solo career, had such an effect on me and the music I care about, it’s difficult to  know where to begin.

Perhaps at the beginning. Very likely the first Lou Reed song I heard was “Walk on the Wild Side” on the BBC when I was about 8. Didn’t know what it meant, though funnily enough neither did the BBC (the legend is that the song was aired because no one at the Beeb got the reference about Candy Darling giving head).

And gradually, as I came of age musically I heard more and more references by bands I liked to Reed and his band, the Velvet Underground.  The first Lou Reed album I bought was the live “Rock and Roll Animal,” probably because it had a number of songs I had heard of, though not necessarily heard.Not his best album, and I later sought the originals

And then in a record shop in St. Catharines, White Light White Heat.  Now, it’s not for the faint of heart. But that 17 minute “Sister Ray” was and still is pretty intense. I don’t think I’d ever heard anything like it. Maybe I never will again. I remember listening to it with a friend in a car on the Queen Elizabeth Way as we almost drove off of the road during I”I heard her call my name.” And it was funny too. Listen to the Gift without laughing, I dare you.

Then, it was the first Velvets record. It’s been said that when you heard a band you like, the next thing is to listen to the people who influenced them. The first Velvets album isn’t really like that. It’s impossible to tell. The band brought together such diverse elements (and if I refer to Lou reed founding the band, it’s not to slight the contributions of Cale, Tucker and Morrison), that they spring Athena like into the world fully formed.

And over the years I gradually bought all the Velvets albums, along with the live ones, the bootlegs I could find, and even the various “rip-off” editions  mono/stereo and mildly remixed. What a score when those outtakes albums came out in the eighties. And still it comes. I remember the joy when those demos came out.

Lou Reed’s solo career was a bit spottier. Such high points and a lot of lows.  I have some I love: Transformer, the much misunderstood Berlin, The Blue Mask, and the magnificent New York. Fans can argue for their favourites, and the ones we’d rather forget. (No, I didn’t buy Metal Machine Music, but I did laugh at bits of Take No Prisoners)

By all accounts, Reed was not the easiest person to get along with. I remember seeing an interview with journalist Daniel Richler where Reed grunted one word answers (and sometimes not even that). Afterwards, Reed opined it was one of the better interviews he’d done recently.

But that’s not the point is it?  Reed made some massive contributions to popular music. Many of the things I love would not exist in their present form without him. And for that I’m glad he was who he was.

Shortly before I began to write this piece, my daughter came up and asked “Was Lou Reed in the Velvet Underground?” No, she didn’t want to hear any of his music (I insisted, but she was adamant), but one of Glee cast she follows on twitter had expressed sorrow about Reed’s death. So maybe the seed is planted.

Now, I’m going dig out some of my favourites and listen to them. You should do the same.

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The Thrill of Bond

October 21, 2013 at 10:47 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

After the seeing the James Bond exhibit at TIFF earlier this year, I decided to work my way through the cinematic version of Bond (it’s not a super high priority though.  So I’ve so far only watch the first two).

Recently however, I also decided to have a stab at the original Bond novels. Casino Royale was out at my local public library, so I began with Quantum of Solace a collection of Bond short stories.

The title story “Quantum of Solace” has very little to do with the Bond movie of the same name, and it’s quite a departure from Flemming’s other Bond stories. Essentially, Bond is at a dinner party as government official tells a story. It’s the story of a middle level bureaucrat who marries a flight attendant (Bond had earlier suggested if he ever married, it would be to a flight attendant). After the honeymoon phase, the attendant grows restless eventually launching a scandalous affair which humiliates her husband. Yet, the husband resorts to a quite unimaginable cruelty himself. It’s a clever little story with a bit of a twist at the end, but it’s nothing like a spy story. Maybe that’s why it works.

“Quantum” follows “For Your Eyes Only” (although again, not much like the movie of the same name) which is a more typical Bond story, and which reveals the essence of the character. ” FYEO” is the story of a former Gestapo officer living in Cuba buying up property by any means necessary, including of course murder. A pair of his victims are friends of M, who essentially sends Bond to murder the German and his Cuban gangster friends. Quite unglamorous, but a genuinely exciting story. Bond catches up with them in Vermont, but first he spends some time in Canada. This part is memorable for its description of Canadian government buildings:

Like most Canadian public buildings, the Department of Justice is a massive block of grey masonry built to look stodgily important and to withstand the long and hard winters.

The best Bond stories, like the movies are not the ones with gadgets (remember Bond’s invisible car embarrassment?), but the ones that focus on espionage. On the fact that all governments are dirty and in many ways there’s very little to distinguish them. And of course we all like to root for the “hero.” It’s the thrill of Bond.

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Frightened Rabbit at the Kool Haus

October 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Even with your favourite band, there’s a danger of over-exposure. I saw First Aid Kit three times in a year, and not that they weren’t great, but the last show felt like a re-cap of the second.

So it was with a little trepidation, that my wife ad I headed to the Kool Haus to see Frightened Rabbit for the thirds time in a little over a year.

Opening band was the Augustines, a New york based band that sounded a lot like the bastard offspring of Mumford and Sons and Frightened Rabbit. If that sounds like a put-down, it’s not. they did what the support band is supposed to do,  warm up the crowd (although judging by the applause., they also brought a contingent of fans with them).

Frightened Rabbit came on a little after ten and played, including encores a ninety minute set of fantastically powerful music. True, the format seemed in rather place (towards the end of the set, the band leaves the stage to allow Scott Hutchison to play a few solo numbers before returning to finish up), but who cares. You always feel you’re seeing your best mate’s band, and he’s playing all your favourite songs.

FR mentioned on their site that this spring’s Toronto show at the Phoenix was one of the best of the tour, and so, and if this one didn’t quite reach that height it may have been that the Kool Haus is less intimate than the Phoenix or the Mod Club. Still, they gave it their best, and we all went home happy.

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Bowie at the AGO

October 20, 2013 at 7:23 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

When someone says, “I like David Bowie,” I’m often tempted to ask which one?

Bowie is a chameleon, and although the last record I really paid interest to was Scary Monsters (maybe I’m forgetting something), those early years of his career are peerless: Ziggy, the cracked actor, the thin white Duke, etc. Bowie’s creativity seemed endless. Not only that he helped out (and yes, ahem, borrowed from others lie Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople)

So, if you’re any sort of Bowie fan you really should check out the exhibit currently at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The exhibit is spread over two floors and contains artifacts, music and film from Bowie’s career along with materials from those who influenced Bowie (one room is full of Warhol items).

Even if you’re a Bowie expert, you’ll likely see something new – early films and posters were fascinating, along with different mixes of songs. And c’mon, where else are you going to see Bowie’s mid-70s coke spoon?

Admission to the show includes an audio tour which tends to cut out, and it’s often unclear which part the audio is discussing, but overall it’s quite impressive.

A word of advice though. Book your ticket online. I went Sunday morning at 10 and the place was packed. The show runs until November 27, 2013.

Oh, and my favourites, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Heroes. 


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Union Critique on Lib Com

October 15, 2013 at 12:16 am (Uncategorized)

Here’s something out of the past.

I was going through Lib com earlier today, when I saw under the featured column an article I wrote on unions and published in Red & Black Notes back in 2004. The article was based on public talks held in Toronto and Montreal with the Internationalist Workers Group.

Here’s the link.



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Elementary My Dear Ayn

October 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, I watch Elementary.  And while it’s not as stylish as the British Sherlock Jonny Lee Miller’s scenary-chewing as the recovering junkie Holmes is a lot of fun.

Last night’s episode has a Wikileaks-like storyline, but of a somewhat more dubious nature. The whistle-blower seems as much interested in “hooking-up” than with exposing secrets. His web page, Watson notes, is also filled with Ayn Rand references.

Holmes snorts: “the philosopher-in-chief to the intellectually bankrupt.”

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Alice Munro

October 11, 2013 at 1:27 am (Uncategorized) (, )

Was it really John Lennon who said, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans? And when I looked up, a fortnight had gone by without a post.

So, today I was roused from my stupor by the announcement Alice Munro had won the Nobel prize for literature. I haven’t read enough of her work to call myself an expert. I’ve just read a couple of those fantastic short story collections to note what a talent she has.

I’ve been writing for years. People have on occasion praised my work (immodesty moment), but I can’t write fiction.  To write a story, a real story, that entertains, that holds the reader. That’s a skill. And it’s a skill Munro possesses, so congratulations to her.

Did I mention I once worked with her daughter in a used book shop?


[Update – And those of you who are quick observers, will note I misspelled her name! Damn!]


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