Music Notes September 2016

September 30, 2016 at 10:35 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s that time again

1 Jack White – Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

A two-CD set of acoustic favourites drawn from throughout White’s career; many you’ll know, some B sides, remixes and a few unreleased gems. Basically though, it’s worth hearing to note how White is able to take those old blues structures and do something new with them. There’s a bunch of interesting tunes including my current fave title “Honey, we can’t afford to look this cheap.”

2 The Mekons –Existentialism

OK, you get a live recording of the band in Red Hook, a 96 page book complete with essays, sketches and poems, and a link to a video. Now, the sound on this record is a little thin because of the nature of the recording (the band crowded around a single live mic), but there’s a warmth and a joy that goes with any Mekons record that more than makes up for it.

3 Tricky – Maximquaye

Tricky’s debut is his best. Hip-hop. blues, garage, soul and more on this one. There’s just a feeling that rolls over you. It’s also available as a deluxe edition with unreleased versions and remixes which are not essential, but worth a listen.

4 The La’s –  The La’s

Possibly by most popular album ever to be disowned by its main architect. I don’t care what Lee Mavers says, this is a brilliant record. I hadn’t listened to this in a while, and had forgotten just how perfect “Timeless Melody” is.

5 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

After a cataclysmic event, there’s a tendency to view everything through that lens. After Ian Curtis’ suicide Closer was dissected as an extended suicide note. After the death of Cave’s son last year, there is a tendency to view with album as being all about Arthur. There’s certainly a possibility, but the songs stand. The fist half focuses on Cave’s vocals, with the music almost an afterthought, but the second part of the album seems a return to a fuller songwriting. After listening, I wondered whether this might not have been more successful as a book of poems or as a spoken word album.

6 The Pixies –Head Carrier

After the relative disappointment of Indie Cindy, I worried about this album. No need. It’s not one of the original four, but how could it be? Decades have passed and a Firefly reunion is more likely. No, it’s a brilliant new record with crackling songs in that classic Pixies sound but is still fresh. Cool.

7 Billy Bragg and Joe Henry – Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad

There’s always been a romantic sensibility about the train. Travelling across the plains , the hobo hitchhiker etc. (This can quickly be cured by taking a 12 hour trip from Toronto to New York and you realize what train travel has become – the boy is still complaining  year later) But I digree. No longer the angry young man, Bragg is making quiet Americana-esque records that are a pleasure to listen to.

8 Iggy Pop – New Values

Maybe the Ig’s first  solo album without Bowie’s involvement. I remember buying the first single from this, “Five Foot One” as a picture disc (sure that must be worth a few bob). New Values
is a new wave album by your cool uncle.

9 Sultans of Ping FC- Teenage Drug

My wife is watching a show called Moone Boy. It’s a comedy with the brilliant Chris O’Dowd, but the closing credits are accompanied by the song, “Where’s me Jumper?” by Sultans of Ping FC. Now imagine that the Sweet came after not before punk and you can imagine what this might sound like: loads of songs about being teenage (even though the band gleefully concede they’re in their twenties), rock ‘n’ roll, drugs, hot Japanese girls etc. Even a Yoko Ono cover. Loads of fun.  (Oh, I should mention, the song from Moone Boy is on their first album. Teenage Drug is the second)

10 Prince Buster

Cecil Bustamente Campbell died September 8, 2016. It’s probably too much to say without him, there would have been no ska music, but his contribution was enormous. Like many the first I heard of his work was through 2-Tone: the Specials’ first single “Gangsters” was a reworking of Buster’s “Al Capone'” and Madness both took their name from one of his songs and covered “One Step Beyond for their second single. The best thing you can do if you want to assess the man’s contribution is to listen to his work.


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Looking for some Cool Art in Toronto?

September 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s an idea.

It’s always great to know people who are more talented than you; you look better just by knowing them. I’m going to mention two artist friends.

Joylyn Chai currently has work on display at the Pape Library (a few steps south of Danforth). I really like how Joylyn takes simple ideas and makes them into something wonderful and unique.

Alanna Cavanagh is moving. If you’re an artist and you want to live in her lovely apartment, just her blog for details. If you’re a lover of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, you might know that Alanna has done the illustrations for the latest catalogue (her work can also be seen on TTC buses)

Work from both of these fantastically talented people currently grace my home, and it should be in yours as well.


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I HEART MEKONS – Live at the Horseshoe 2016, a Review

September 18, 2016 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized)

It was a perfect English summer day: Light intermittent rain; warm enough not to bring a coat, but with occasional chilly gusts that made you wish you’d brought one.  That and watching the second season of Detectorists  put me in the perfect frame of mind to appreciate the Mekons, a still-standing class of 77 band now based in Chicago; a punk band who don’t quite play punk anymore, but are not a fraction less essential for that.

The Mekons were in town to play TURF – the Toronto Urban Roots Fest, a three-day show down at the Fork York Garrison Common whose name pretty much sums up the event. As in previous years though, in additional to the festival, acts appearing at TURF often play club shows , and for those fortunately attendees, this year, the Mekons played the Horseshoe. (And if you’re reading this before 8:30 PM on September 18, you still have a chance to catch the band  as they close out the Rebellion Stage at the festival.

It was a late show, so I decided to forgo opening act Simone Denny, and arrived around 11:30, half way through Skinny Lister’s set. Skinny Lister is a British folk-punk group who reminded me a lot of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, who play a similar style and are equally energetic. For me, it felt as if the band were trying a little too hard, but that was probably just me. The audience at the Horseshoe were certainly into them, and people sitting near me after the set, had come to see them and not the Mekons.

12:30. Mekons on stage. If Skinny Lister seemed a little forced, the Mekons were their polar opposites. The band were a DIY punk band, but in the mid-eighties began to incorporate other sounds, folk, blues, country, salsa, dub, into their sound and created something quite unique in the process.  If you haven’t seen in, check out the2013 documentary The Revenge of the Mekons to catch up and to hear a hilarious U2 story.

Live, the band is a seeming contradiction. A band which perpetually seemed on the verge of falling apart on stage, but somehow produced some of the tightest, most exciting rock and roll you’re likely to see anywhere. A band who seemed completely natural, just concerned with giving the audience a great time. The band opened with “Memphis Egypt” from The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll, and then blasted through crowd favourites like “Millionaire,” ” Hard to be Human,” “Last Dance” and more through a 65-minute set. Aided and abetted by Dallas and Travis Goode of the Sadies. The band even found time for a couple of new songs from the new record/book Existentialism (recorded in Red Hook during the summer of 2015, the package consists of a live CD, a 96 page book of essays, poems and drawings along with a link to a video – it was great listening on the trip home)

After a lengthy set, two sets of encores concluding with the anthem-like first single “Where Were You?” the band said goodnight, and shortly after 2AM we stumbled into the night to go home. The Mekons played the Horseshoe last in 2006 (Yes, I was there). Don’t feel bad you missed last night’s show. You still have nine hours until tonight’s show. Else you’ll have to make the trip to Chicago to see them there (actually, not a bad idea).



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Fan Expo and Nerd Culture Round Up – Summer 2016

September 11, 2016 at 6:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Of course the other thing about Labour Day in Toronto is that it means that Fan Expo has just finished.

The four-day extravaganza of nerd culture featuring comic books, science fiction, games, horror  and everything associated with all of those genres. Celebrities, cosplayers, workshops, games, cool free stuff and more draw over 130,000 people down to the Toronto Convention Centre. My son and I have been going for years; this year was no exception. But before we do that, I thought it worth writing a few worlds about some of the stuff that’s gone on recently


I saw the original Ghostbusters the day it came out, and loved it. I still love it, although some of the effects are dated. The controversy over the new female reboot is, well, really a non-issue. Boo hoo, if casting women in your favourite movie has ruined your life/childhood/ whatever. It couldn’t have been much of a life to begin with, could it? Yeah, yeah, I love SF, but it’s a movie.  And even the greatest movie of all time (and Ghostbusters certainly isn’t) is just a movie. Now, I read reviews that suggested this was the funniest movie of the summer, and others that thought it was a piece of shit. It falls between, although closer to the former than the latter. The principles acquit themselves with honour, some clever cameos and nods to the original, and there are genuinely hilarious moments (although my favourite is still Andy Garcia’s reaction to being compared to the Mayor from Jaws. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, but Kristen Weig is always worth watching, and Leslie Jones was very funny too (Haters STFU). But for me, the real genius was Kate McKinnon.

Suicide Squad

Another weird one. The opening buzz about the film was very good, but perhaps this was based on a stunning trailer revolving around Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As the release date drew closer, little negative murmurings could be heard, and when Rotten Tomatoes published negative reviews, things went crazy. Again, the “fan” community overreacting to…a movie they hadn’t seen either. It’s a fun movie with some funny moments, but the pace does feel rushed, the use of music is clumsy, and overall the story doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Did I like it, yeah, but again, it’s just a movie.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

OK, I do have mixed feelings about re-unions. I know everyone wants a Firefly reunion, but it’s never going to happen and maybe that’s a good thing. No reunion means we get to keep our pristine show. It’s always better to leave people wanting more, not less (Simpsons, are you listening? It’s too late now anyway) So, with a new Harry Potter book, I wondered would it add, detract or merely be another chapter. Those who care about the book have already read it, and formed their own opinions, so mine doesn’t really matter, but for what it’s worth, I was quite happy with the story. We all wondered what would happen to the characters after Voldemort’s fall, and here’s a partial. The dialogue was good, and the themes consistent with Potter canon. However, at times the plot seemed to reply too heavily on earlier works, and the evolution of Draco Malfoy seems too speedy within the context of the story. OK, OK, I do want to see it when it invariably tours.

So, onto Fan Expo.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been buying Premium tickets which has the added virtue of allowing you to enter through a side door and avoiding some lines. OK, not the VIP which are $500, but still nice enough. There’s also a premium lounge where you can chill far from the madding, and they are that, crowd.

Thursday: It’s a walk around. We cruise the floor, get books signed (thank you Jason Loo, Fred Kennedy, and Klaus Jansen), and buy stuff. Fan Expo opens at 4PM, but if you buy a deluxe or higher pass, you get in at 2. It’s worth noting though, that if you haven’t picked up  you wristband before, you’ll still be waiting outside come  2 o’clock – a painful memory I can tell you. The Boy nad I picked up our stuff earlier in the week and so we got to walk onto the convention floor at 2. It’s really quite lovely. You have space to walk around, and you actually get to try somethings without having to wait too long. The Boy played a Lego Star Wars game, and we got our pictures taken by Canada Post for a Star Trek promo. Nice! There’s not much in the way of forums or celebrity stuff on the first day, so you’re pretty much free to wander without distraction. Bought an anti-matter t-shirt, and my dog is now the proud wearer of a Firefly collar 

Friday: I was unable to attend, and missed Jewel Staite from Firefly. Oh well.

Saturday: The busiest day of the con. We arrived around 11, and just wandered for a bit. Part of the Fan Expo experience means that depending on which line you were in for one thing  you might not be able to get into something else. The Boy and I had two plans. The first was a photo-op with Morena Baccarin (I know, I know). Photo-ops are a bit crazy, and depending on the celebrity and when you booked, it can be a bit of a meat grinder. We got to say hi, click, and we were out the door. I was pretty happy with the picture though, so what the hell? Now, the Boy had wanted to see Hayley Atwell from TV’s Agent Carter, but that wasn’t until 4PM, meaning we had a few hours to kill. So we headed down to the biggest hall in the building to see John Barrowman of Dr. Who, Torchwood and Arrow fame. Tip here, if you don’t care about sitting near the back, wait until the start of the forum to arrive. There’s always space.

John Barrowman had no host with him. He was the host, and for over an hour, he refused to stop talking. He ran about, he told very R-rated stories, and he entertained. The Boy, who didn’t understand  half of what he heard, said he enjoyed Barrowman the most of any he saw. We pulled the same show up late trick for Hayley Atwell, and she drew a smaller crowd. Atwell, who will be appearing in a new TV show Conviction with an American accent, was funny and charming, but not as animated as Barrowman.

Sunday: This was Stan Lee’s last appearance in Canada, and we decided not to go. Instead we wandered some, got our pictures taken on a Star Wars set, and then went to see Ben Mackenzie. Mackenzie is currently starring as a young Jim Gordon on Gotham, but it seemed a good number of attendees were there to hear about his days on The O.C. Our last panel was for Morena Baccarin (again) who has appeared in many beloved SF shows such as Serenity, Stargate, V (the remake), and is currently on Gotham. Oh, yeah, she was in a little movie called Deadpool too.

Why do people go to the Q and A’s? To ask questions, but mostly to see people whose characters they love in in the hope of learning a little more about the show. Some piece of trivia, some funny joke. To take home a little piece. Why do people dress up in costumes? Because it’s fun – for the record, I did not wear a costume, but Deadpool and Harley Quinn were the number one choices.

Comic-cons have been around for decades. Once upon a time (do you see what I did there?), they were small affairs. Now, hundreds of thousands of people and millions of dollars are involved. Will the market become saturated or tastes change? (I’ve tried to explain westerns to my son, but I don’t think he fully gets it) But for now…

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Labour Day 2016

September 5, 2016 at 11:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I attended the Labour Day parade in Toronto every year from 1987, the year I moved to Toronto, until 1995 (the last parade before I move to Calgary in 1996). I marched first as a member of the Alliance for Socialist Action (a predecessor organization of Socialist Action), and then as part of the Bolshevik Tendency. I quit the latter at the end of events on Labour Day 1995.  The following year, I was in Calgary where I lived for two years, and then attended sporadically in Toronto after that. Probably the last time I went was 2001, when I handed out an IWW leaflet.

In Canada, at least, the Labour Day tradition predates May Day as a workers ‘ holiday, and finds its origins in a strike in the 1870s for a 58-hour (!) work week. The first Monday as a public holiday took root in the 1880s and was officially proclaimed as such in 1894. The US holiday was also established in 1894 ostensibly as a reaction against violence against worersd  during the Pullma Stike, but more likely as a peaceful legal alternative to May Day and the spectre of Haymarket.

Labour Day in the 21st century has a strange duality. For the unions, it’s still a time to come out and to officially celebrate accomplishments and to speak in a militancy which is altogether absence from their practice (another post for another day), but more often than not, it’s also an opportunity to shill for whichever capitalist politician the unions perceive is “pro-labour.” (If you watch US news coverage, you’ll see a lot of pro-Hillary stuff today). And that will likely earn you a 15-second soundbite on the evening news.

But for most people in North America, it’s the end of summer. The last long weekend before school starts (my kids go back tomorrow, so right now they’re dragging their feet around the house, trying not to think about it).  The last picnic. Maybe some fireworks. Time to close up the cottage (although everyone hopes for one or two more great weekends), and the beginning of the long relentless trudge towards winter.

In Toronto, the parade is over now. Marchers used to be able to get into the last day of the Canadian National Exhibition for free. Hope you Enjoyed the day off.


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