Music Notes April 2015

April 30, 2015 at 1:35 am (Uncategorized)

A few interesting things for your ears…

1 Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Delightful debut from Barnett. A marvellous rambling sing-song collection of observations about love, the modern world, and …well other stuff too. All backed by catchy tunes. Oh, and did I mention, very funny?

2. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

This is the first real Zeppelin album I’ve acquired. Sure, I have Mothership and that reunion gig, but never one of the cannon. Somehow, this one seemed irresistible. The double album, the masterpiece. I’m still absorbing it, but Zeppelin is one of those bands, that for me were an acquired taste. And the more I listen, the more I discover. Ah, if you like Zeppelin you already know this and are wondering why it took me so long. Which brings me to…

3. Various artists – Physical Graffiti (Mojo cover-mount CD)

Mojo magazine often does these tribute re-recordings of albums, and I guess their success depends on how you feel about the original record. Did you love the original (I was indifferent to the Rumours collection because I’m indifferent to Fleetwood Mac) and hate the idea of change? (I can see Zep fanatics hating this). Me? I  quite like it. Songhoy Blues cover of “Kashmir” is quite amazing, and I prefer Kitty, Daisy and Lewis’ version of “Boogie with Stu.” Sue me! Free with Mojo’s April issue.

4. Roy Orbison – Mystery girl (Deluxe)

I think I mentioned last month I’m on a bit of a Roy Orbison kick at the moment. Orbison’s last record and it’s aged well. The big hits “You Got It” and “She’s a Mystery to Me” still hold up over two decades later, but the deluxe edition comes with a DVD (OK), but a number of demos. The demos are outstanding. Fragile rough takes; the rawness of them is unbeatable. Like looking into a man’s soul.

5. catL – Soon This Will All Be Gone

Possibly my fave Toronto band. This is their third album and the last with Johnny Larue on drums (Sarah K has filled the gap quite admirably though). If you know catL’s punk-blues formula, you’ll love this. Originals and covers of Hasil Adkins and Leadbelly. Listen loud.

6. Black Belles – s/t

Sure it bares the mark of Mr. White, but the garage rock of the Black Belles stands on its own. It’s not a great record, but tracks like “Howl at the Moon” shine.  (Ouch. Didn’t notice that right away) Main Belle Olivia Jean is now a pretty amazing solo artist.

7. Chris Isaak – Forever Blue

Mmm, possibly my favourite Isaak record. Or maybe Baja Sessions I dunno. Doesn’t matter, there’s not a bad song on either. Yeah, Isaak sticks to his true romance or true broken heart formula; Duane Eddy guitar and Roy Orbison crooning, but hell, it works. “Things Go Wrong” tears me up every time.

8. Gemma Ray – Milk for Your Motors

Anyone that can get Howie Gelb and Alan Vega to appear on their record s and be recommended by Jimmy Page is OK in my book. But don’t let others’ recommendations do it for you, check out this quite stunning record yourself. Twangy guitar, catchy vocals. Great car album.

9. Kitty Daisy and Lewis – Third

The difference between their first and third records is ambition. The first is a great rockabilly type record, but with Third, the band take a huge leap forward musically. Reggae, rock, soul even protest songs. Produced by Mick Jones too.

10. The Sonics – This is the Sonics

Can a buncha old men rock? (see the forthcoming review of the Toronto show). Actually, yes. Now, it’s not “Psycho” and “The Witch,” but what you get is some pretty loud insane garage stuff. In lovely mono.

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Montreal Anarchist Bookfair

April 24, 2015 at 1:28 am (Uncategorized) ()

It’s just under a month until this year’s Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, the largest of its kind in Canada, and one of the largest in North America.

I’ve just received my confirmation for tabling, so will be there as usual. Hard to believe this is my sixteenth year tabling there!

The bookfair takes place on the weekend of May 23-24, but this year there’s only tabling on the Saturday. More details at the bookfair site.

If you’re going, drop by, say hi. And if there’s anything maybe obscure ultra-lefty you want,  drop me a line at the blog.

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Kitty, Daisy and Lewis at Lee’s

April 23, 2015 at 2:14 am (Uncategorized) (, , )

Retro is a term that raises mixed emotions. On the one hand, it’s reactionary since it means the idealized version of the past and the implication things were always better “back then,” but it can also mean having  look for good stuff and bringing it up to date. It’s difficulty to get it right.

The tag has been applied to London mulch-instrumentalist siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis who were in town a little while back to play Lee’s Palace, but never fear. They got it right.

Oddly enough the DJ mix at Lee’s was no less retro: all the sounds of ’77. The Clash, the Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, the Ramones and a lot more golden oldies. Great songs, although they seemed a little off considering what was to come.

Show-opener Gemma Ray has been endorsed by Jimmy Page no less, but it’s easy to see why. Ray stood along on stage save for her guitar and drummer/keyboard player, but she filled the stage with sound. Mixing country, surf and pop Ray performed a compelling set of tunes that sounded, well, both old and new.

Kitty, Daisy and Lewis are promoting their third album, The Third, and listening to it after the first, you can hear the progression, both in confidence and sound. The older material is great, but the new stuff just sounds so much bolder.

Sisters Kitty and Daisy took the stage wearing what might have been go-go suits or Jetsons era space suits, while brother Lewis wore a suit (and yeah, they all looked great). Off  to the sides, both parents appeared, with ex-Raincoat and mum Ingrid Weiss playing bass.

The three alternated vocals and instruments throughout the set, while working through the new record and cuts from their earlier two. But, for me, the most interesting thing was how much fun they seemed to be having. It was infectious, and the audience dug it too.

It’s a rare thing when a band can play new stuff, and old, and seem equally at home with other people’s songs too (check out their version of “Boogie with Stu”). Great show.

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Sniff Walk

April 18, 2015 at 2:38 pm (Uncategorized)

A few years ago I went to Belgium in March. The day I left, there was a blizzard here. When I arrived in Brussels, the flowers were blooming. I mention this here because this winter seem to never be coming to an end. There’s actually a warning of snow for this coming Thursday, but it doesn’t mean my neighbours should still have their Christmas lights up.

I digress.

In some or other book on or by the Situationist International I read about the idea of exploring a city using the map of another, thus opening the explorer up to new, erm, avenues. Which brings me round to the point at the start. During the winter months, walking the dog can be a grim chore. It’s cold and the dog gets filthy every time (my dog is white so…), but when the weather warms, it becomes a joy.

I read somewhere about a “sniff walk.” Basically, instead of walking the usual route, you allow the dog to set the pace and the direction, stopping to sniff whatever and for how long he wants. (I should state too that my dog walks are pretty relaxed anyway, and the dog usually gets to sniff whatever he wants)

So for the most part, you get a much longer, but still familiar route. However, about three-quarters of the way through one of our usual routes, Lester opted to go straight instead of left. As a result we made a much wider swing and ended up going  along paths he had seldom travelled. He became much more excited, going along new routes and getting to pee in new places.

And as you walk, you notice new things too. Not least with people. When you walk a dog, people are more willing to be friendly. I usually smile, nod hello or say good morning, but still a significant number of people ignore you. My dog never ignores another dog. Sure, there’s sometimes snarls or alpha dog moves, but never indifference. (I wonder too about the people engaged in animated cell phone conversations when walking the dog – just enjoy the moment; don’t wish you were elsewhere)

Lastly, I read something once about Ivan Pavlov and his dogs. Apparently here was a flood in one of his labs. A pipe burst or something and many of his dogs drowned. Some were able to kick open their cages and escape. The ones that escaped, forgot their training. The liberating effect of freedom. We can learn a lot from dogs.

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Demographically Significant?

April 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm (Uncategorized)

In the circles where I travel, work, social and political, overt racism is rare. Not unknown, but generally people know to keep socially unacceptable comments under wraps.

Last week’s comments by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre then, don’t  fit into that category:

“Eight years of a demographically significant president is enough.”

Demographically significant? Oh, you mean, the U.S. has had a black president, now it might get a woman? How awful. What about all of the poor white men who would like to be president. (And of course, when I say poor, I mean unfortunate not actually poor – you can’t be president unless you’re rich)

OK, I’ll stop now, since sarcasm doesn’t always travel that well.

What LaPierre and his increasingly demographically insignificant base seem to miss is that Obama has been a faithful steward carrying out policies every bit as awful as Bush, and Hilary Clinton, if she gets the chance, will carry on just the same.

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Are You Ready For Super-Rock? The Fleshtones at the Horseshoe

April 12, 2015 at 11:11 pm (Uncategorized)

What was it Lenin said about music? You can do blues, opera, jazz, classical and country until you’re 150, but rock and rap are a young man’s game.  No wait, that was Grace Slick. Lenin said something about revolutionaries over the age of 55. I digress.

Thing is, the Fleshtones who played the Horseshoe Tavern last week to a small, but appreciative crowd are no longer young men. Singer Peter Zaremba is 60, Keith Streng is 59, and drummer Bill Milhizer is approaching 70. (Toronto’s Ken Fox is the baby of the group at  54), but the thing is they still play pretty hard. My usual rule is not to go to reunion show unless I never saw the band in their prime (going to see the Sonics in a couple of weeks) , but I did see the band in the mid-90s when they had been playing together for a couple of decades. Still, the band never broke up, so it isn’t a reunion.

Glad I went. They played an hour-long set followed by two encores and never sat still. I’m not familiar with a lot of the newer material, so it was nice to hear “Hexbreaker” as the first encore, but the new stuff didn’t sound particularly different. “Super-rock” they call it. And it was. The kind of thing that makes you want to get up and dance. Garage rock with a touch of soul.

Openers Crummy Stuff weren’t young men either, but they played a solid punk rock set that could have been the Vibrators or one of the other class of 77. Turns out the guitar player had been in Durango 95  – now there’s a name I hadn’t heard in many a year. Not sure if he went into the Purple Toads. It was a solid set. Too bad there weren’t more people there to hear it.

Hey, hey, let’s hear it for the old guys!

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Benjamin Booker at Lee’s Palace

April 7, 2015 at 1:31 am (Uncategorized)

The oddest thing that happened to me when I went to Benjamin Booker’s sold-out show at Lee’s Palace this past week was I got asked for ID at the door. Now, either this is a new guy on the door with rather poor eye-sight or the lighting outside is extremely flattering.

When I walked into Lee’s openers Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs were already half-way through their set. The band looked as if they had invested into some bearded hipster fantasy, but they rocked a lot harder than that. Garage punk? Power pop ‘n’ rock? Dunno. You should listen to their current album from Bandcamp where you can also get the first one for free.

Olivia Jean formerly of the Black Belles was up second. There’s a bit of a retro-vibe about Jean, but it wouldn’t be successful unless the songs were there. Jean played a good amount of  her Third Man debut Bathtub Love Killings, and generally built on the momentum from the opening act. The sound was a little muddy at the beginning with the vocals too low in the mix, but by the middle of the set, things were humming nicely.

Booker came on stage just before 11.  The three piece band played a furious garage-blues. Like Jean’s set, the sound was not so great at the start, but within a few numbers, everything was up to speed.  Not that it would have stopped Booker anyway. He tore up the stage, blasting through his album. Oddly though, the most powerful moments were mid-set in a song where Booker put aside his guitar and was accompanied only by fiddle and guitar, Booker stalked the stage in a drone-based  country epic. Didn’t catch the name of the song, but perhaps some helpful attendee could supply it. And then it was done. No encore, and we drifted away.

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Freedom of Religion Under Attack (I Wish)

April 5, 2015 at 9:27 pm (Uncategorized)

A few random thoughts then.

First, I’ll admit the post title was intended to be provocative, but really, after the events in Indiana this week, can you blame me?

Indiana passes a law that says if your religion (and by that we mean the Christian religion, try pulling this shit if you’re Muslim and see how far you get), compels you to dislike certain people (let’s start with gays and lesbians and see how that tracks) and you own a business, you can now claim “freedom of religion” for your bigotry and be legally protected.  The Onion got it just about right.

A few days later, after mounting pressure from a number of corporations including Wal-Mart (!) and Apple, along with public outcry, Indiana Governor Mike Pence made amendments which say, actually, we’d like you to be able to legally discriminate, but it looks as if we can’t. Sorry. Still, pretty much every Republican presidential hopeful weighed in on the side of Indiana only to backtrack and agree with the changes a day or two later. Rolling Stone has a good summary here.

It’s genuinely puzzling for me.  Racism is bad. Homophobia is bad. That should be a no-brainer. Yet, if I say, racism is OK because of my (religious) beliefs, that’s OK? Er, no.

I should say here though, that I don’t believe all religious people feel this way, and many are no doubt embarrassed by people trying to use their books to justify this behaviour.  I have no problem reading the Bible as an interesting work of fiction complete with some quite beautiful language and cool use of metaphor. It’s when people interpret it literally and claim it’s good for all time we run into problems. Christians, along with most of the world, used to think that slavery was OK. Not so any more.

Without getting too bogged down in the democratic rights boondoggle (be careful of your friends in this debate), the interesting thing in this situation is how powerful organizations and individuals paint themselves as outsiders under attack. The idea that Christianity is under attack in America is just too surreal for me.

A poll a few years ago asked people for disqualifying factors in voting for a presidential candidate. Sure enough some people said they wouldn’t vote for a Muslim, a homosexual, a woman etc. The biggest dis-qualifier though was if the candidate was an atheist.

That a significant number of powerful people read a book that was written 2,000 years ago as a literal truth for all time is a problem resulting in any number of social difficulties. Still, the rising number of non-believers in the US is cause for hope.

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The Business of ComiCon.

April 4, 2015 at 9:12 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Toronto ComiCon was a few weeks back.  Toronto ComiCon is the little brother to Fan Expo. It’s shorter, has fewer guests, workshops and exhibitors and a lot less free stuff. Still, me and the boy usually head down on the Sunday to sniff around, pick up a few things and get things signed.

This year, I became intrigued by the idea of the photo-op. For those who don’t know, the photo-op is a chance to get your picture taken with your celebrity of choice…for a fee. the more I thought about it, the more, the idea was interesting.  Looking through the possibilities.  I considered getting a picture of me and the boy with Karen Gillan. Again, for those of you who don’t know, She played Amy Pond on Dr. Who, as well as Nebula on the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie (The unfortunate, unfunny and short-lived sit-com Selfie, we will not dwell on).

I’m one of those people who prefers to book in advance, so I went to the site. $65. OK. Let’s see what this works out in total. I clicked and advanced. For an extra $10, you get a digital copy. Well, I want that. Checkout time. $89.50. The good people at Fan Expo have added on a processing fee of $14. Fuck that. I didn’t bother to find out if that included tax.

Foiled in the photo-op, I looked to see if anything else was worth paying for. Well, Amber Benson who played Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was going to be there as well. I bought her latest book The Witches of Echo Park and thought, OK.

Come the day, the boy and I drifted around the hall. It’s quieter. I get a few things singed, including my copy of the Criminal Macabre collected edition. I got the book signed by Steve Niles a year back.  Now my copy also has Ben Templesmith’s autograph. Becky Cloonan and Ray Fawkes were nice enough to sign things for me as well.

So, finally we made our way over to the celebrity signing area. People were already lined up for Karen Gillan, but Amber Benson was a comparatively short wait. Then, it struck me. the artists and all signed books and chatted for nothing. Benson wanted $40 for her signature. Really? Now, nothing against Ms. Benson. This is the culture we live in. I walked away.

Sometimes I use the shorthand generalized commodity production to talk about capitalism, but it’s easy to forget what exactly that means. A commodity is a product which is produced for sale, not for consumption or use by the producer (it should be mentioned too, that ownership by the producer usually disappears, but that’s another day). And under capitalism, everything becomes a commodity. Even a signature based on fleeting fame.

The people who attend these events aren’t looking to get an autograph or a photo so they can sell it on eBay. They’re fans. they’re nerds. But this sort of stuff is big business, and there’s lots of money to be made. Sure, I’ll keep going, but this saddens me. On the other hand, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival is only a few weeks away now! Check that out, and it’s free too!  

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