Music Notes: January 2014

January 31, 2014 at 9:57 pm (Uncategorized)

From the frozen north comes some warm things for your ears.

1. The Velvet Underground – Live at the Gymnasium

I’ve got a couple of Velvets live records: 1969, Live at Max’s and the Quine Tapes, but this is the first I’ve hears with John Cale. Absolutely worth having this recording: “Sister Ray”, “Waiting for the Man”, and a gloriously ragged version of “Run, Run, Run” amongst other treats. (Packed as a part of the White Light/White Heat re-issues

2. Dolly Parton – “PMS Blues”

Don’t fuck with Dolly y’all. S’all I’m sayin’.

3. Portishead – Roseland  NYC Live

If you love Portishead, you’ll thrill at how their sound interacted with a full orchestra in this live recording; if you hate them, it’s boring repetitive crap. No middle ground (I’m in the first camp)

4. TS Eliot vs. Portishead – The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

I was looking for an audio recording of Eliot reading “The Hollow Men,” when I came across this beauty. Eliot reads, and Portishead play in the background a tad too loudly. A marriage made in…well, somewhere.

4. Baxter Dury – Happy Soup

Ian’s son mumbles along in the same sing-speak style as his later father. Infectious poppy fun.

5. Barbara Keith – “All Along the Watchtower”

Call me a heretic, but as much as I love and respect Jimi’s cover, I prefer Bob’s original. This however, is quite stunning. Love the record playing in the video.

6.  The Who – Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

It’s rare that a greatest hits album actually is. This one, which came out in 1971 is a fantastic packaging of those early Who records. Tight bursts of energy; maybe the perfect Who collection.

7. The Yardbirds – “I’m Waiting for the Man”

Maybe the earliest cover of this song. Kinda crappy sound quality, but no less vital for it. A track from their ’68 US tour.

8. Pavement – Wowee Zowee

When the band explains the sound of their record due to excess weed consumption, you might wonder. The third record of Pavement is less commercial that Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, more in keeping with slanted and Enchanted . Quite wonderful  though, especially if you find the Sordid Sentinels edition with all those extra tracks.

9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds  – Push the Sky Away

Strangely enough I picked up the live record before this one. The latest Nick Cave album shows just why we love the man so. Heart-breakingly beautiful songs. Nick Cave is a towering talent. The deluxe edition has a DVD with two curious tracks on it.

10 Morrissey – Autobiography

The long awaited book. From it’s opening paragraphs, it’s clear that this really will be a book every Smiths fan would read. Morrissey’s chapter-less tone is quite smashing, quite dreary, and informative depending on which part you’re at. Haven’t finished it yet, but it’s fascinating stuff (well, maybe not the stuff about Mike Joyce’s lawsuit).

15 CM on snow tomorrow; another 15 CM on Tuesday.

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Pete Seeger

January 31, 2014 at 3:36 am (Uncategorized)

The death of Pete Seeger this week was a significant newsworthy event and newspapers across the globe and across the political spectrum ran appreciations for him.

And Seeger was a man of significance: Friend and comrade of Woody Guthrie; Member of the Weavers;.  A victim of the blacklist and a resistor of McCarthyism (he refused to answer questions for HUAC and was convicted of contempt of congress); fellow-travellor of the Communist Party (who eventually parted ways with it); defender of pure folk music (he allegedly tried to sever power cables for Dylan’s electric set at Newport) and so much more. He remained for many a moral centre for music and politics.

To tell you the truth, I’m not overly fond of Seeger’s singing or his banjo player (I don’t hate this, but they don’t move me very much). In fact many songs he has recorded, are bettered by others. But… there’s something about the conviction with which he sings that pulls me in every time, even in a song like “We Shall Overcome” (not one of my favourites, but there’s something about the way he sings it…)

Do yourself a favour and find “Pete Seeger’s Greatest Hits” and “If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle.” Both are valuable as artifacts from a bygone era, and as part of the ecord of a man who truly believed a better world was possible. (Even if we don’t quite see eye to eye politically) .

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The Strypes Debut in North America

January 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

It was bloody cold on Monday night. Still, the Strypes were making their North America debut at Lee’s Palace, so it seemed worth risking frost bite to check them out (as it turned out the next couple of days have been even colder, so Monday looks good in retrospect).

But I digress. Got to Lee’s about 9:15 mid-set for opening band the Canadian Shield. not crazy about the name lads, but the punky hard rock (sorry, couldn’t resist) two-piece made a good impression on the crowd. It wasn’t exactly my thing, but they were energetic and made a great  racket. (Bandcamp has their stuff, so it’s something to add to the list)

The thing that struck me as I arrived was how full Lee’s was. Arriving before the main band on a cold Monday night would usually mean I could have the pick of the place, but Lee’s was at least 75% full. The Strypes rep preceded them.

I’m going to avoid jokes about how young the band are, but let’s just say, if they weren’t on stage, they wouldn’t have been allowed in the club. When they ambled onto the stage a few minutes past ten, the band seemed like the cool kids in a battle of the bands contest at your local high school. But if anyone at Lee’s had that impression, it lasted only a few seconds.

The Strypes play r and b. The r ‘n’ b the Stones played. The r ‘n’ b of the Pretty Things, the Yardbirds, and Dr. Feelgood.   In other words, blues, hard and fast. With a nod to the past, but an eye on the future, the band tore through a mixture of originals from their debut Snapshot, tasteful covers like the Coasters “I’m a Hog for You, ” Bo Diddley’s “You Cant’ Judge a Book” (OK, I know it’s a Willie Dixon song) and a searing version of Nick Lowe’s “Heart of the City,” and even a couple of new songs (sorry, can’t remember the titles – I was down the front and thus not able to take notes).

I dunno about you, but it’s something special to see a band when they’re fresh. Not fresh in a “this is the first gig we’ve played” way, but fresh in a  “now we’re a band and we have that confidence we are the greatest thing to  come along” way. The Strypes radiated confidence and they played those songs as if they had been doing it all of their lives but with the energy of the first album.

After a seventy minute set, the band took a brief pause, and returned to play “Louie Louie” and Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” A great way to conclude their North American debut. (Only disappointment: no merch table. I really wanted a Strypes t-shirt!)

Before the show began, I was texting a friend. The next morning, the email I sent her about the concert contained only three words:

Fucking. Amazing. Show.

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The Jim Jones Revue: 2014 Toronto

January 19, 2014 at 3:23 pm (Uncategorized)

A short, sharp, review.

Walked into the Horseshoe Tavern just in time to hear Dany Laj and the Looks thank the audience and depart the stage. Thy look interesting and it’s  cool that Laj sticks around the Horseshoe for the rest of the night. Note to self, check them on-line.

Hmm, hmm, wait around. At 10:30, on come the Millwinders: Cool outfits (all with racing stripes on the left side) and a stand-up bass. The set starts slow, but  by the mid-way point, they settle into a fancy rockabilly groove which warms up the audience chilled by the cold January air and lightly falling snow.

More waiting. Position myself stage-right. Very close to the front. Then it’s on. The Jim Jones Revue are here to promote their latest album “Savage Heart.” And promote they do, in the most brutal, direct, stripped down rock ‘n’ roll way they can. My favourite line about the band is that the JJR believe rock n roll didn’t need to evolve after 1956; it just needed to get much much louder and more wildly distorted.

And a swaggering cool. That’s the only way to describe it.

Jones and the blast blast blast through three albums’ worth of material. Jones stalks the stage, an energetic madman. The drums crash. Jerry Lee piano. Jay and Orton play and tease the audience with  a wall of sound. The audience responds. A blast. Cool. Rock ‘n roll at its heart is about that feeling, that lost abandon. The moment of sex, of death, of life, of all three.

Last time the JJR play here, I complain about the length of the set. This time, the gods heard my prayer and, including that fantastic encore, the band are on-stage for 70 minutes.

Dig it.

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The Politics of Work

January 17, 2014 at 12:53 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Public event. Debate/discussion on work organized by the Platypus Society. Your humble blogger is one of the panelists.

The Politics of Work

Tuesday, 28 January 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Debates Room, Hart House, University of Toronto
Join the event on Facebook
Hosted by Toronto Platypus
Sponsored by the Hart House Social Justice Committee
L. Susan Brown – Author of Does Work Really Work
Dave Bush – 
Neil Fischer – Internationalist Perspective
Sam Gindin – Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly, author of The Making of Global Capitalism
…the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.
– Joan Robinson Economic Philosophy, 1966

 “It is generally assumed that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition– such as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky– also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers’ interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production (which rely on a surplus of available labor), thereby potentially jeopardizing the system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. It is hoped that this conversation will deepen the understanding of the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.”
The Platypus Affiliated Society organizes reading groups, public fora, research, and journalism focused on problems and tasks inherited from the “Old” (1920s-30s), “New” (1960s-70s) and post-political (1980s-90s) Left, for the possibilities of emancipatory politics today.

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New Shows in Toronto

January 13, 2014 at 7:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

A few things coming up, live music-wise.

This Friday the Jim Jones Revue are playing the Horseshoe Tavern. For those who don’t know, the JJR are an absolutely outstanding live band, and to see them at the horseshoe is a treat. Savage rock ‘n’ roll. Imagine Little Richard fronting the Sonics and we’re off to a good start.

Then, the following Monday, Irish r’n’b (when that meant  fast blues) sensations the Strypes play Lee’s Palace. Like the records, really looking forward to seeing this one. On the music notes column last month, I posted some You Tube video of them playing with Wilko Johnson. Now, there’s something to tell your grandchildren about.

A couple of friends have sneered at me, but I think I’ll head down to Lee’s again in February for the Forgotten Rebels . I’ve lost count of the number of times I saw them, but it should be fun. 

Lastly, on April 23,  Holly Golightly returns to the horseshoe. A great live performer. well worth a trip down to the ‘shoe. The last time I saw her she was fantastic. Close to the end of the show a guy standing next to me starts a conversation asking if I had seen her before. After a few more chits and chats, he got to his real purpose: “Er, do you know where i could get some coke?” I was probably the last person he should have asked. Still, Holly’s great.

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Two New Books on Workers Councils

January 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Just read this review posted on Insurgent Notes of two books on workers councils in the German Revolution of 1918-19.

The first is Wild Socialism: Workers Council in Revolutionary Berlin (1918-21) by Martin Comack and the second  All Power to the Councils: A Documentary History of the German Revolution by Gabriel Kuhn (who wrote a very interesting book on pirates a while back) .

They both seem worth a look.

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A Game of North Korean Thrones

January 4, 2014 at 6:57 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

In March 2013, the US Spartacist League ran an article entitled “Chinese Stalinists: Running Dogs for Imperialist Drive Against North Korea.” (always love it when Trotskyists adopt loopy Maoist phrases) [Just to note, the information below appears in the web version of the article as it appears in Spartacist Canada]

The article criticizes China for helping to draw up sanctions against North Korea and defends North Korea’s nuclear programme as a “crucial means of deterrence against imperialist attack.” Uh huh. Also in the article, Dennis Rodman is singled out for praise for palling around with King Joffrey, er, Kim Jong Un at an exhibition basketball game.  Uh huh again.

Still, I don’t want to create the impression that the Spartacists have not been entirely uncritical in their support of a brutal capitalist regime. After all, they write, “In North Korea, ‘socialism in half a country’ à la the Kims has been particularly vulgar in its nepotism and cult of personality.” So there.

Still as reports emerge through Chinese media that the recently executed Jan song Thaek, Kim Jong Un’s uncle,  who has been described as “despicable human scum, worse than a dog” (foreshadowing here), was stripped naked and fed to a pack of 120 starving dogs, you do kind of wonder if the Sparts criticisms need to be a bit more forceful. You also wonder if like his movie-loving father Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un is borrowing from TV.  In this case,  a Game of Thrones. 

Of course, this could all be fiction. After all, when the execution was announced the reason was that Jan Song Thaek was plotting the overthrow of the regime; turns out it was abuse of power and money. And the original execution was carried out with anti-aircraft machine guns according to the Independent. This last detail puzzles me.: Why anti-aircraft? Was he in a plane as well? Why not ordinary machine guns?But I digress.

Lastly, I know this hasn’t appeared in the TV series yet, but Jong Un, you do know what happened to Joffrey don’t you? Read the books.



Read this in the Washington Post about the execution by dogs story .

Sounds about right, although apparently there is a term for it, quan jue, which means execution by dogs.

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Phil Everly 1939 -2014

January 4, 2014 at 6:13 pm (Uncategorized) ()

The death of Phil Everly yesterday at 76 leaves a hole. A huge hole.

The Everly Brothers were one of those bands who influenced generations of singer-songwriters. How many artists can you think of that tried, and quite often failed, to replicate their harmonies? No Simon and Garfunkel; no “Please Please me” (it’s based on “Cathy’s clown”);  no Ravonettes, no… well, you get the picture.

This morning after I heard the news, I dug around for that Everly’s collection I have. Couldn’t find it, but I did find Rockpile’s debut which features the EP, “Nick and Dave sing Don and Phil.” Listened to it, and I’ll admit, they’re pretty good versions of those songs. But when I did find the Everlys record and spun it, there was no comparison (and I suspect Nick and Dave would be the first to admit it).

So however you listen to music, go and find those songs.

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Happy New Year (2): New Magazines

January 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Well, the holidays are always useful to catch up with reading.

A few new things arrived at the mailbox recently:

1.  Communicating Vessels #25

CV is reflections of technology, surrealism, art, poems and very cool graphics. Less explicitly political than in previous issues, but a joy to read. No email or web site, but you can order it  Little Black Cat

2. Communism – The journal of the Internationalist Communist Group

Not usually a fan of their stuff, but the new issue is mostly leaflets from around the world. Interesting for the geographical breadth.

3. Datacide

Based in German, Datacide is a mix of ultra-left politics and bands you’ve never heard of; what more could you want?


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