Friday, October 29, 2010
Artist: Mohamed Diaby & Manding Foli Kan Don
Recorded at Afrofest (Queen's Park), July 10, 2010.Mohamed Diaby & Manding Foli Kan Don - unknown
My notes for this set can be found here.
N.B. This recording is a capture of CIUT's live broadcast.
* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!
Afrofest 2010 (feat. Mohamed Diaby & Manding Foli Kan Don / Waleed "Kush" Abdulhamid / Doody Le Tigre / Dramane Kone / JP Buse)
Queen's Park. Saturday, July 10, 2010.
Time again for one of the best weekends of the year. Regardless of who is on the big stage, Afrofest fills Queen's Park up with animated crowds, some of whom show up to check out the bands, some to dance, and a lot of people to just linger in the festival atmosphere. From the stage to the merchandise booths to the beer garden the park was filled from end to end, even if there was often a lot of elbow room right up by the stage. And even if the weekend's final didn't feature any of the African teams, World Cup fever was in the air.
As I emerged from the subway and made my way down to the main stage (set up near the north end of the park), I could hear the pounding beats of Mohamed Diaby & Manding Foli Kan Don rolling out to meet me. The percussion-based ensemble featured five brightly-dressed drummers at first, but by the second selection there were nine on stage — and then dancers on top of that — so there was a lot to watch. One song featured a vocal call-and-response, but by and large singing took a backseat to the interlocking rhythms. Which went pretty much non-stop — the set featured four different grooves in forty minutes, so these were long selections, one going for twelve minutes.
Diaby — originally from Guinea, but now calling Toronto home — didn't have much to say, but managed to spread some good vibes in a few words, telling the crowd, "music is supposed to make you feel good!" It doesn't take too much to get people up and dancing at Afrofest, and though most of the crowd was sitting in the shade, back a bit, the space in front of the stage filled in nicely. Whole families were up and dancing, joined by wandering stilt-walkers who joined in for a bit.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Bringing a more considered and cerebral approach was Waleed "Kush" Abdulhamid, whose music rises out of his Sudanese roots, but is not narrowly limited to any one musical tradition. The set opened with an interesting number, a slow one with slick, atmospheric keybs and layered guitars that brought to mind Daniel Lanois' soundscapes. Things picked up from there, Abdulhamid leading the with his moody but spry six-string bass playing. His strong, emotive vocals were complemented by the violin, which added an interesting edge to the band's sound.
The best material here featured that striking North African mix of upbeat and melancholy, and this is where the six-piece band (keybs/accordion, guit, violin, percussion, drums) was at its best. Despite some sound problems throughout the set — the violin player couldn't quite get his sound right, or possibly couldn't hear himself in the monitors — it was fine from down in the crowd. As a pan-African tribute to the World Cup, Abdulhamid did a Zulu song, and to close things out, he brought local Sudanese singer Ruth Mathiang to sing on the final number.1 There were a couple of the songs didn't do as much for me, but overall this was an interesting mix — dare we say fusion? — of sounds.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Playing for the first time in Toronto, Montréal's Doody Le Tigre brought a mix of Caribbean and African musical styles. With a female co-vocalist, Doody played the frontman with a five-piece band behind. After establishing a party vibe with his opening track, he changed things up musically, telling the audience, "now we're going to take the plane to Haiti!" — his own homeland — leading off with a snatch of a folksong, accompanied just by guitar before the rhythm section kicked in and took the tempo back up. Walking the stage with his namesake's swagger, Doody did what he could to pump up the crowd, starting some singalongs, even throwing in a little tiger roar after while calling out his name.
The music wasn't all party-minded fun. His single "Ça ne va pas", with stabs of reggae keybs, is a reflection on Québec's still-roiling discussion on "reasonable accommodation". Doody made his own preference for diversity clear with the number of styles his band incorporated into their songs — he threw down some rhymes, hip-hop style, on one and brought a rumba-esque beat after that. The crowd favourite was his own version of "Waka Waka Africa" — an interpretation of the makossa hit "Zangalewa", originally by Golden Sounds, it was revived with Shakira's re-make as an an anthem for this year's World Cup.
After closing out his set with a zouk-flavoured number, host Justine Gogoua — who has such an engagingly commanding personality that I should imagine she is not told "no" very often — asked for a reprise of "Waka Waka", which the band obliged.
And then a near-tragic turn in the day's festive events. Between sets, I'd wandered to the other end of the park to the bustling rows of food vendors, only to return to a chaotic scene back near the main stage. There were police cars and ambulances everywhere, emergency workers cordoning off an area with bright yellow emergency tape. It turns out that several large branches from one of the park's beautiful old oak trees had snapped and come crashing to the ground, nearly falling right onto some of the people sitting below.2 Somehow, there were only minor injuries.
An unusual silence from the stage, with the ubiquitous background music silenced while the emergency workers bustled about. There was a call, of all things, for a Norwegian translator, but not too much information as the crowd waited for the next act.
Finally, the scene was cleared — with a large area around the tree blocked off — and the festival resumed. Dramane Kone, from the musically-rich Wassoulou region of Mali, led a band that was almost all rhythm, with two kamalé ngoni in front of bass, drums and percussion. When this got into a groove, it was utterly funky stuff. For the second song, the band found that sweet spot and just settled in for almost ten minutes, time for the backing vocalist to step up front and dance, spurred on by the hand drum as the music slowly sped up. There were more hypnotic grooves after that, in one song Kone getting the audience to sing along to the refrain of "c'est la vie", and another a fifteen-minute titanic that again built up into a frenzy.
Just a couple minutes into the next song, a glum-faced Michael Stohr, president of Music Africa, stepped onto the stage, gesturing for the band to wrap it up — "it's not good news, I'm afraid," he told the crowd. The city's arbourist had declared that the tree that had lost its branches was rotten right through, and more of it could come down at any time, leading the authorities to shut down the stage for the night. Declaring that it would be better to lose an hour of music than to risk further injuries, Stohr apologized, but had next-best options in hand: the early shut-down would allow city crews to get to work and cut the tree down overnight, meaning Sunday's performances were not in danger, while the last act of the night was being moved to the smaller Baobab Stage, further south in the park. Dramane Kone had gotten most of his set in, so all things considered, it wasn't nearly as bad an outcome as it could have been.
Listen to a track from this set here.
So I moved it on over to the Baobab Stage, where what looked and sounded like a pretty cool DJ set was shut down as stagehands began hurriedly setting things up. It looked like a lot of people were eager to hear the evening's headliner JP Buse — people began to get a bit restive as the clock ticked past the ten o'clock starting time. But with lots of equipment to check on the fly, including quite a few microphones, it took some time to get things going.
With a large backing band including six instrumentalists and three backing vocalists, this was a group that would have been right at home on the big stage. Here, on the smaller side stage, they looked a little awkwardly crammed in as they went through a rudimentary soundcheck. But as the band kicked off with an instrumental, it felt all right. Featuring a tightly-wound two guitar sound — low-slung rhythm parts complementing the glittering leads — this was the sort of thing I'd been waiting all day for. Those guitars, the synth-horn stabs and that skittering drumbeat riding tak-a-tap-tap on the snare. Then, Buse emerged to rile up the crowd, shouting, "are you ready for some soukous?"
Buse, who had established himself musically in the Congo as a member of the seminal Zaiko Langa Langa in the 80's,3 sang with a supple voice and brought a relaxed manner to the stage, playing the role of dignified musical statesman, mostly leaving the flashy moves to the younger bandmembers surrounding him. But he was undoubtedly running the show, expertly employing plenty of frontman tricks to get the crowd worked up.
Like a lot of other dance-friendly African guitar bands, one got the feeling that the instrumental passages of the songs were infinitely scalable and as the band hit the turnarounds I was keeping an eye on the players to see how they knew if they were taking another go 'round or segueing into another song. The band was pretty locked in, but there were a few times where it seemed apparent they couldn't hear each other very well. As could be expected with the last-minute set up there were a few glitches with the sound and it was overall not the greatest mix, but it couldn't cover over how good this band was.
The first burst ran about twenty minutes of three (I think) non-stop songs before the band stopped for breath, Buse eliciting shouts from the crowd as he called out for a cheer from various African countries. he also stopped the next song as the band began to teach the crowd how to sing along. Tearing into another series of mashed-together songs, Buse brought up some members of the crowd to dance on stage as the band played right up to the curfew — "the stage manager tells us we have three more minutes," Buse said, "so enjoy the last three minutes!"
Even though the band probably didn't get to play the set they wanted on the stage they deserved to be on, the talent on the stage ensured this was a really solid set. This is very much a group I'd revisit for future dance-y fun.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 Abdulhamid is also a member of the Ethio Stars Band, a top-notch all-star crew, and you can hear hints of that Ethiopian flavour in his own music as well.
3 Zaiko Langa Langa, founded in the 70's, included a who's-who of Congolese musical stars, including Papa Wemba. The band revolutionized the country's musical scene by getting rid of the horn section and cranking up the electric guitars, and many of its members went on to become stars in their own right.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Artist: DBC Pierre
Song: Date with Ikea [excerpt from Lights Out In Wonderland]
Recorded at the International Festival of Authors (Brigantine Room), October 23, 2010.DBC Pierre - Date With Ikea
In the spirit of my music-augmented reading by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, I thought I'd do the same with this brief reading from DBC Pierre. I didn't have anything specifically Ikea-related, but this looped-guitar improvisation by Svarte Greiner has a suitably icy Scandinavian edge, I think. (You can read more about that show here.)
My discussion of this reading/interview can be found here.
Artist: Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall
Reading: A Shining Flood, A Wall of Water [excerpt from Ghosted]
Recorded at the International Festival of Authors (Brigantine Room), October 23, 2010.Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall - A Shining Flood, A Wall of Water
Something a little different here. The interview included this brief impromptu reading by Bishop-Stall from his novel Ghosted. Now, I haven't read the book yet, but I hear a lot of it takes place in the College/Spadina neighbourhood. I don't know if the characters drop into Comfort Zone, but I sort of get the impression they might be at home there. So I decided to augment the reading with a recording from that venue, in this case by Ostrich Tuning — a show that you can read about here if you are so inclined.
My discussion of this reading/interview can be found here.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall and DBC Pierre
International Festival of Authors (Brigantine Room). Saturday, October 23, 2010.
A double-header interview, I was keen for this one to check out local writer Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, whose 2004 memoir Down to This, telling of the year he spent living in Toronto's Tent City, has now been followed up with his debut novel Ghosted. I haven't read the new one yet, but I was intrigued by what I'd heard about the hyper-local nature of the story, which is largely set in the College and Spadina neighbourhood. I'm always a sucker for fiction set in places I recognize, where one's own familiarity feeds into the vividness of the prose while at the same time adding new layers of resonance to the places themselves. He was joined by DBC Pierre, a Booker Prize winner in 2003 for his first novel Vernon God Little, and here at the festival presenting his new Lights Out in Wonderland. Pierre, with a mildly scruffy appearance, presented as the hard-living author type from whom any literary accounts of debauchery or hangovers might not be wholly invented.1
The session was hosted by Brent Bambury2, who showed great keenness for both books and structured his interview around teasing out some of the similarities in the two works. He began with examining the iconic structures that play a part in each of the books — the Bloor Viaduct in Ghosted and Berlin's Templehof Airport. Regarding the metaphor-value of Templehof, Pierre was articulate in discussing how the location underpinned his allegory on decadence and the collapse of ideologies (fascism, communism and now capitalism) that Berlin has witnessed in the past century.
While Pierre portrayed Lights Out in Wonderland as a contemporary Satyricon — an illustration of a decadent society — Bambury pried into some of the deeper layers as well. Both books have a dark heart, concerned with the enigma of suicide and other forms of self-destruction — Bishop-Stall said his book was about "the line between people who are truly suicidal and people who will just end up probably killing themselves." Along the way there, there were also some amusing coincidences in the books, such as a large amount of cocaine consumption3 and memorable scenes involving aquariums.
Enjoying that imagery, Bambury pressed Bishop-Stall into an impromptu brief reading of one his his aquarium scenes, while a little later also prompting a short selection from Pierre, in a passage illustrating his thesis that capitalism is an escape-proof trap — in this case illustrated with a hungover protagonist lost in an Ikea.4
Closer to home, on the very local nature of his work, Bishop-Stall talked about how although Toronto is a vivid character in his books, it the city he knows the least, especially in its usual literary incarnation. His Toronto is one that most people don't know, the hidden underworld of after-hours clubs and the desperate efforts of the dispossessed. After talking a bit about Down to This and its echoes in his new book, Bishop-Stall talked about the "one equals seven" rule — the notion that it takes seven years of settled life to recover from one year on the streets, a period that he has now passed out of. In an echo of that, talking about his Booker prize Pierre noted it has been seven years since he won that ("good for getting published, but bad for writing") and those after-effects might be out of his system as well.
After the Q & A, as the audience began filing out, I actually saw something that I don't think I've ever seen before. Before heading out to sign books for the audience, Bambury held up the two authors got both to sign his copies — a further sign that the enthusiasm that he brought to the interview wasn't a front. Illuminating stuff, and if the goal of something like this is to whip up interest in these books, it certainly worked on me.
1 When asked, "How was your Friday night?" Pierre dryly responded, "I"m still having it."
2 Who is well-known — if not revered — by Canadians of a certain age as the former host of Brave New Waves, the pioneering late-night radio show that disseminated non-mainstream music of all sorts in a pre-internet age. For those so inclined, apparently Bambury is now hosting the new Day 6 on Radio 2.
3 Bishop-Stall: "from a narrative point of view, if you like books where a lot of exciting things happen, a good way to get that done is to have your character as a cokehead — a lot of shit will then happen."
4 There were some other parallels, too, like Ghosted's lists of some Nuit Blanche-esque monumental public art echoing Wonderland's decadent recipes made from endangered species.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Round Table: "In Graphic Detail" (feat. Charles Burns, Dylan Horrocks and Seth)
International Festival of Authors (Brigantine Room). Saturday, October 23, 2010.
Rather than just rows of chairs as I remember in the past, the Brigantine Room was set up salon-style, with small round candle-lit tables filling most of the room. That created a nice atmosphere (though the setup also might get a bit awkward in a packed room, where people would be struggling to position themselves so their backs aren't facing the stage). As it turned out, there was a decent crowd, but not a full house for this one. The event was a round table discussion featuring three noteworthy graphic novelists: local artist Seth (as nattily meticulous-looking as one of his creations, slightly dandyish in a suit and argyle socks); American Charles Burns (looking more like a high school teacher or someone similar that you'd run into at Costco); and Dylan Horrocks from New Zealand (sitting in the middle, he also split the difference sartorially, looking perhaps like a young professor in a sweater and sneakers combo).1
The discussion was hosted by CBC's Bob Mackowycz, who did a good job of not over-injecting himself into the discussion — he pushed things along as necessary, but as often as not the three artists prodded each other with questions, keeping the whole thing flowing like an actual conversation. The discussion started by talking about the creative process — all three agreed that the meticulous nature of their craft required scheduled regularity more than bursts of inspired passion (cartooning is "more plodding" than painting, as Seth commented).
The conversation turned to the differences between commercial work and their own art, and Burns and Seth agreed on the usefulness of "busywork" to fill the time and keep the work routine going in creatively fallow periods, while Horrocks' experiences were coloured by a spell of commercial work he did (writing for Batgirl, of all things) that eliminated any lingering romantic notions he held about working in "the industry".
There was an interesting discussion on the necessity and limits of plot, Horrocks calling it, "the least interesting part of the story".2 Seth added that while plot is conflict-based, the stories with little conflict are most interesting. While our culture has a limited notion of storytelling, obsessed with incidents and conflicts instead of situations or places, all three of these artists' works are strongly situation-based, with strong sense of place.
Meanwhile, there was talk on the possibilities of working in other media (all three would find it awkward, although Burns has done some work in animation) and the possibilities of adaptations — Horrocks, for one, would welcome an adaptation of Hicksville that wouldn't be beholden to the exactness of his book's plot. Burns talked a bit about the possible adaptation of Black Hole and his realization that for him it would have to be a hands-off process — the book is his work, a movie would be something else.
There was also a fascinating discussion on the value of scarcity for imagination — like reading comics in foreign languages as a child and coming up with one's own dialogue to fit the visual language. Burns recalled reading Tintin as a kid and seeing the listing of other books on the back cover, ones you couldn't always find in your local store and that in some way existed only in your own imagination. This resonated strongly with me, reminding me of my own childhood. It's something that is increasingly disappearing in our online age, and one wonders if easy access to seemingly everything will have an adverse impact of the generation who are growing up now.
There was a lot of other ground covered in the hour of discussion and short Q&A session. Being familiar with these artists' works, it was easy to see how their personalities are woven into their art. An engaging time.
1 For those unfamiliar with these artists and perhaps looking for somewhere to start, I'd recommend Seth's Clyde Fans, Horrocks' Hicksville and Burns' Black Hole, all of which are available through the Toronto Public Library.
2 Horrocks would later comments that he was looking for novels with a similar unconcernedness with plot, preferring a less-structured daydream-drift — something like "Moomins with sex," he said, half-jokingly.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Pride Toronto 2010 (feat. FITNESS / Señor Kasio / Heavy Filth / People You Know / Diamond Rings)
Alexander Parkette. Sunday, July 4, 2010.
Parade day! Despite being out rather bloody late the night before, dragged myself down to meet A. Just like it usually seems to be, it was a hot one, sun pouring down as we squeezed our way along the parade route to try and find a shadow-y spot that offered a decent vantage point. The Pride Parade is such a huge thing that although I go every year, pretty much, I don't think I've ever seen the start and the end of the same parade.
After the parade — and after some shady rest — more time to wander. We had somewhat competing agendas, as I was mostly eager to check out some of the bands at the always well-programmed Alterna-Queer stage in the Alexander Parkette beside Buddies in Bad Times. A., meanwhile, wanted to wander more, and check people out, grab more of those free samples and check out what was going down at the drag stage. (Which is, admittedly, rather good fun too, usually.) Given that, I had an amusing run of catching the ends of sets on the Alterna-Queer stage, so these first few notes here should be seen as a bit tentative and fragmentary.
c. 5:20 FITNESS
Wandered into the park1 to the sight of spandex and leg-warmers on stage, an aerobic musical workout by the aptly-named FITNESS. Their sound was squelchy synthpop conducive to the workout the crew was doing on stage — the dancing/aerobics were decidedly not secondary. From the part of the set I saw, it seemed perhaps something more of an participaction-minded "entertainment experience" than just a band playing on stage, so your enjoyment might depend on how much you're willing to get into the goofiness of it.2
c. 6:15 Señor Kasio
I'd seen this crew of electro-punk insurgents on this same stage a couple years back and had enjoyed them, though our paths had not crossed since. From what I remember, what I heard when we approached the stage this time was a bit more of a low-slung rock sound, but that was undercut somewhat when frontman Steve Diguer announced, "this is the gayest song ever," as his intro to an enthusiastic cover of Toni Basil's "Mickey".3 Also of note was their closer, statement-of-purpose song "I Wanna Fuck", a smart-dumb bit of work which can get caught in your head a bit with its relentlessly repeatable chorus.
c. 7:20 Heavy Filth
After one last wander-round with A., he headed home for a nap, and I got back to the parkette with enough time to catch just the end of Heavy Filth's set. They appeared to be rawking with no-bullshit authority, but I don't really have enough data to say too much about 'em. Sounded invigorating, though.
8:00 People You Know
By now, I was settled in and managed to catch all of People You Know. The trio (bass/guit/drums) hit the ground rolling with a fiery run through Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation". Now, leading off a set with a cover is a bit of a risky proposition — what if your own stuff can't live up to that?
There was also the more immediate problem that guitarist Aimee Bessada attacked the song with such vigour that she broke a string, and didn't have a second guitar on hand, creating the prospect of squandering that momentum right away with some string-changing dead time. By luck, someone in the audience had a guitar handy, and she played the rest of the set with a lender.
"See and Be Scene", the first of the band's originals, had a choppy guitar part and rode the hi-hat during the verses, but wandered around a bit too much in the chorus — a situation that'd be replicated with some of their other songs. There was a nice edge in the delivery, but the songs' construction didn't quite do it for me.
Bessada's guitar lines often had a pleasingly rough edge, but the compositions and her vocal approach were more straight-up pop — perhaps appropriate for a band that lists both Sleater-Kinney and Milli Vanilli as influences. It's an interesting line to navigate, and the fact that I'm far more endeared to the rougher stuff at the edges as opposed to the pop side colours my reaction some. The band haven't quite yet written any killer songs, but perhaps they'll yet come up with their own "Bad Reputation" — they've got the right attitude for it.
9 p.m. Diamond Rings
Well — what more can I say about John O'Regan's Diamond Rings project, having discussed him no few times hereabouts? It risks sounding like empty hype or crass flattery to suggest that the trajectory seems ever-upward, but O'Regan keeps bringing more confidence and swagger to his sets, which in turn give him the room to lay out more depth and vulnerability in his songs. It was that swagger that was evident off the top as he kicked this set off with "Show Me Your Stuff"4. Meanwhile, O'Regan still tempers the kick-ass flamboyance of the music with the same unpretentious directness between songs, here talking about being out of breath from biking over to the gig. It makes the upshot of the whole thing less diva-like and more 'I'm fabulous, but I'm just like you — so you could be fabulous too!'.
After the keyboard jams to start, O'Regan picked up his guitar for the rock-ier portion of the set with "Wait and See" and "Something Else". But most intriguingly, he closed out the set with the slow-jam "It’s Not My Party", arguably the night's highlight, where that aforementioned vulnerability was more strikingly laid out. But there was no way that the crowd wasn't going to call him back for "All Yr Songs", now welcomed like a canonical classic. Has all this happened in a year?5
Listen to a track from this set here.
There was one more set to go on the day, with Katie Stelmanis and band. It would have been well-worth staying for, but by this point it'd been a pretty long day and I was done in, so I headed home. But it was a worthy day. It says something about our city that most of these bands weren't rank strangers to me — most of 'em they play at the sort of shows I'm going to otherwise and they certainly aren't waiting for Pride to come around to have a space to play in. But the Alterna-Queer stage is a nice environment and it certainly is exposing these acts to an audience that might not be going to seek them out in the clubs.6
1 Thankfully, the parkette was not a licenced area this year, making it easier to come and go. Making the stage all-ages also seems eminently sensible, given that this is, in theory, also serving a more youthful sort of crowd.
2 The band are playing a 50 River gig in the Imperial backroom this Thursday (October 28). The Imperial Pub might be the last place on earth I'd have expected to see an aerobics throwdown, so it should be interesting. Bonus: Light Fires (the Gentleman Reg / James Bunton electro-dance unit) are also on that bill. And I also see that FITNESS are also playing at Rancho's Hallowe'en party, which would work out perfectly if you were planning on going as 80's-era Jane Fonda this year.
3 "I've been wanting to do that since I was twelve!" Diguer confessed at the song's conclusion.
5 The onward and upward path for Diamond Rings takes its next big step today (October 26th) with the release of his full-length Special Affections. Go grab yourself a copy!
6 On thinking back on these shows and the memories they create, I note with sadness the untimely passing of Ari Up, who played a vibrantly memorable show on the Alterna-Queer stage in 2008 — we can hope that someone in that crowd was fired up and maybe inspired to be in a band that will be up there in years to come.
Monday, October 25, 2010
International Festival of Authors (Fleck Dance Theatre). Friday, October 22, 2010.
A reliable (if pricey) annual autumn celebration of all things literary, the International Festival of Authors gives cause to head down to Harbourfront after outdoor concert season ends. I figured it would be a good start to a Friday night to spend some time with John Waters. Heading down to the Fleck Dance Theatre — which I've been to for a concert and a couple IFOA things, but never for dance — there were a decent number of keeners out waiting in line before the doors opened. Looking over the crowd, there were a handful who clearly looked like superfans but otherwise a pretty mixed bunch, 30's to 60's, that didn't fall into any overt niche. Some punk hairdos were apparent, and looking around it appeared this was widely thought to be a good place for guys to take their beaus out on a date.1
For a crowd that was, presumably, united in some sort of affinity for things outside the mainstream, the bland smooth jazz playing over the PA before the show wasn't a good fit. The theatre is a pretty big space, seating about 450. There was a good crowd for this one, though I don't think there was anyone seated in the balcony.
For the first part of the night, Waters — dressed in a dapper black-flowered suit — read from his book Role Models. The book is a memoir, albeit one constructed in an unconventional way. Not directly an account of Waters' life, it's instead a collection of character sketches of people who have been important to him. The notion of how our characters are shaped by the people who influenced us was a central thread throughout the evening, as was hinted at in the first reading from the chapter on Tennessee Williams — in subtle ways, it's just as much about Waters as the playwright he never met. After stealing a "forbidden" Williams book from the Baltimore library, Waters learned, "I didn't have to listen to the lies the teachers told us about society's rules." And that one can be an individual even in an outsider subculture: "Tennessee Williams wasn't a gay cliché, so I had the confidence to try to not be one myself."
Waters also read from the satirical "Cult Leader", where he outlined his plans to build an "army of filth" before being interviewed by Richard Crouse. The conversation began with the usuals about the process of creating the book and the pair talked about some of the people in it, like "outsider pornographers" David Hurles and Bobby Garcia. The discussion ranged from fashion to politics and religion to hippies and punks, all served with Waters' wit. Less flippant was the discussion of Leslie Van Houten, the former member of Manson family fighting for parole — a cause that Waters has publicly celebrated, engaging in an real investigation of redemption and how people can change. He also talked about some of the changes in his own thinking, such as feeling regret now for, say, having used the Manson murders as comedic fodder as "boogieman against straight people" — something he now sees as youthfully irresponsible and insensitive to the victims' families.
There were a few questions from the audience before the night ended with the traditional retirement to the author signing — that part isn't really my thing. Overall, a fun time.
A key part of John Waters' career has become the selling the brand of being himself — his presence is perhaps most marketable "work". Given that his main vehicle for this has been his one-man show This Filthy World, it was interesting to see the differences in approach in this more highbrow sort of event. I think the tone of the conversation was a bit more introspective and probing than when I saw This Filthy World, but without losing Waters' irrepressible verve.
Listen to Waters speak here.
1 A good way to give the impression, "I'm literate, but still a little freaky".
Friday, October 22, 2010
Song: I've Been Wrong Before
Recorded at Against Life II, July 3, 2010.Anagram - I've Been Wrong Before
My notes for this set can be found here. N.B. This is a weirdly muddy recording, and is a less pristine document than I usually throw up here — but it does reflect what it sounded like where I was standing that night.
Against Life II: Against Love (feat. Anagram / Young Mother / Toddler Body / Bill Bill)
Bridge under Strachan Av. @ Gardiner Expressway. Saturday, July 3, 2010.
Perhaps the true rebels and rock'n'rollers are more keenly aware of it from moment to moment, but most of the time, we're oblivious to the weave and weft of formal and informal rules that surround and constrain us. Sometimes, we notice when authority steps beyond the normal limits and shows how casually it can impose its force on protesting bodies or on the body politic. If the bulk of life is dealing with all of that subtly deadening crap, then Against Life is the antidote. Sometimes we realize the limits of the usual when the constraints are pulled back and there's a space to act outside of authority or outside of capitalistic exchange.
This series of, well, call 'em "events" more than "concerts" is a successor to the famous series of Extermination Music Nights, which installed music-and-art happenings in unsanctioned, reclaimed spaces. There is, so far as I know, no manifesto or statement of purpose from the organizers, just an invitation to a location that is revealed not long before the show's midnight starting time. The events draw a diverse audience, from lovers of "weird" music, to principled DIY'ers to those who just want a BYOB sort of party.
Now me, I'm no radical in word or deed. I have — perhaps to an unhealthy degree — a quiet sort of belief in rules-based systems and an irrational attachment to propriety, making me, to some extent, an apollonian celebrant at a dionysian gig. But we're none of us any one thing, I guess, and after a corporate gig that was in almost every way the opposite of this, I was certainly looking for something "outside".
And so, headed out towards the Exhibition grounds — one of those Saturday Night Special streetcar rides where there's a guy slumped over, hurling out the narrow window opening — and walking up to find the parking lot identified in the invitation. Down the semi-muddy embankment and found myself under a bridge — an amazingly secluded spot with the ground banking up against one concrete wall, creating a quick sort of amphitheatre effect. Illumination was provided by a series of tiki torches lining the "stage" area, where the microphones and amps were clustered together, the generator off a bit to one side and a cardboard DJ shed on the other. Once the generator was cranked up, there was enough for the amps and PA plus a projector throwing up images on the wall above the embankment, mostly a loop of a guy climbing a ladder.
There was a small fire-based art installation, like a little pagan prayer circle, being set up, but otherwise, when I got there not long past midnight it was pretty quiet, with a sense of finishing touches being applied. There was a steady trickle of people showing up, peering around in the dark for friends and making their way over the rutted, somewhat uneven ground. The unofficial culture smells like lighter fluid, or paraffin or whatever it is keeping the torches burning.
Things got started about quarter to one with the experimental sounds of Bill Bill. The first selection was a sort of instrumental-type track, with a keening two-note synth riff and bird-noise like sounds. As the set continued, there was increasingly a "tribal" sort of feel, with two vocalists adding wordless sounds on top of a variety of distorted keyb noises. Someone beat on a drum. The group's myspace is pretty spare on more details about them, which seems befitting. As an element in this particular environment, the sounds filled the space well enough — I wasn't bored or turned off while they were playing, but qua music, it was kinda too formless for my liking.
Peering around as their set finished, I estimated there were maybe a couple hundred people about — given the nature of the event, people were coming and going throughout, and the crowd actually got denser as the night progressed. As the day's heat dissipated, the night temperature dropped ten or fifteen degrees and suddenly it was feeling chilly. Folks were drinking and hanging out, having a good time. There were some downsides to operating outside the regular strictures — people were smoking freely. And, sadly, in a sign of failed self-governance, littering.
As Toddler Body began playing, at first it seemed like this might be a more-straightforward musical experience — during their first song they sounded a bit like some sort of unholy alliance between Skinny Puppy and Bernie Worrell. The rest of the set was largely more "implied" than that and more decidedly on the "experimental" side of the ledger, although they brought more of a melodic sense to the table, mostly in the form of more regular drum-machine beats and squidgy synths. A musical partnership of Randall Gagne and Greydyn Gatti, the band came quipped with a keyboard and a table full of electronics.
The second piece featured a long, slow quieting fade, until it sounded like a muffled ringtone being played two rooms over. And after that there was more ambiance, with squiggles of sound hugging the fuzzy edges of ghosts of songs. Once again, this worked in context, even if it might not translate to something I'd want to hear in the light of day.
As it got later, the early, here-to-check-it-out crowd was increasingly supplemented by the more heavily drinking party crowd, and the shift to some less environmental music was achieved with Young Mother. "We're going to play some songs and shit", said bandleader Jesse James Laderoute as they started — songs being the exception so far in the night.
The band had totally impressed me the first time I saw 'em, when they stretched out one song over a fifteen minute set. This time, the band led off with a concise ninety-second burst — but it still had all the same elements in place, including the squealing sax and the locked-in rhythm section providing a nodding relationship with the melodic underpinnings of rock music. Their lean, slightly menacing undertow kept things steady while Laderoute sang, both in rapid wordbursts and occasionally in a more relaxed sing-speak. That one song I'd heard before ("I saw it coming a million miles away") was reprised, but here down to about a third of its former length. The last song of the set was the most prolonged, stretching out around nine minutes and was quite good stuff, with a high, spidery guitar line playing off the low-range thrum of everything else, as it built into a chaotic finale. By the end, someone was pouring liquor down the bass player's throat and then using the bottle as a slide on the neck while he continued playing. Some stirring music — Young Mother have some inneresting ideas and stay on my list of bands to see more of.
Listen to a track from this set here.
And then — at about a quarter-to-three — the mighty Anagram to close things out. All things considered, this felt like a perfect environment for their music. The band is in their element when there's no separation between themselves and the audience — despite a misanthropic lyrical outlook and a dark-edged musical attack, they are commendably community-minded when it comes to the sort of shows they play. Leading off with "Evil" — also the first track to their long-awaited new album Majewski1 — perhaps the most noteworthy thing about an Anagram show is that there's no downshifting. "We're going to slow it down for a few minutes" isn't something you're going to hear.
Plus, the jostling-body chaos that comes with the territory always means that each show is going to be unique. At this one, to keep clear of bouncing bodies, I slid around from in front of the band, and ended up almost all the way over beside the bass amp. And when PA was knocked askew it ended up being pointed away from me. The guitar amp was way around on the other side of the band from me, which might be for the best as there was some piercing bursts of feedback coming from that direction.
"How It Seems" was suddenly cut shout by vocalist Matt Mason's shouts — "Kill the lights! Kill the fire! Get rid of the fucking fire now! Right now!" At the moment I thought it was a bit of dramatic posturing, but it turns out that the fire department were dropping by, and the open flame was their main concern. "Is anybody passed out? Does anybody need medical attention?" Apparently satisfied, the fire dept. went on their way, to cheers from the crowd and the band started back up. All of this I learned after that fact — from where I was standing, it was so dark that I couldn't actually see the firemen. And that was before the torches were extinguished. After that, things got murkier.
There was an undertow of frenzy building in the crowd. Not particularly in a dangerously violent sense so much as guttural debauchery. At some point the cardboard DJ booth was pulled down and was being passed around the crowd like a bodysurfer. There was the sense that it could all fall apart at any moment. The band was playing "Leads to Nowhere"2 and it was feeling like it was all coming apart — that things were getting unplugged and increasingly ragged. The band was playing inside an increasingly smaller space as the crowd pushed in towards them.
And then the generator died. Some people further back in the crowd didn't pick up on that, calling out for an encore, as if that was the way the band had planned to end their set. The organizers were running around, trying to get the generator re-started, leading to about five unsettled minutes of standing around, when, anticlimactically, the police showed up to break things up.3
I'm sure there was antsiness on all sides, given the frayed nerves from the very-fresh memories of the G8 clampdown. As people started streaming away I wasn't worried I was going to end up in the hoosegow or anything, but I was feeling a plucky sense of occasion, so I followed some slightly-nervous younger folks leaving by the back door, which turned out to be the embankment leading back up to Strachan. After watching the tableau of folks scurrying out from under the bridge for a bit, I headed off, just a pedestrian making my way home in the late night.
There's a lot to praise the organizers for here. My sense is that they are, if not observing the official niceties of how one is supposed to hold an event, all the more principled and careful for it. The not-in-someone's-backyard locations are scouted so as not to interfere with other people's quiet enjoyment of the night. And there is a principled libertarian argument here, of self-determination and self-regulation — we choose to operate outside the Fire Code and the noise bylaw, so therefore we will be responsible for governing ourselves. Of course, when you add large numbers of drunken/stoned people to the mix, there are worries about, like, who needs that nanny state looking out for them, given the worst-case-scenario sort of things that could go wrong. I know it ain't likely, but these things always flash through my brain at events like this.
Still, I'm glad that events like this exist — I think it's more than just, like, a show at a venue where people can drink hooch straight from the bottle. In art, no less so than in our social interactions, we consciously and unconsciously subject ourselves to the limitation of what is "allowed". Exploring the liminal spaces — musical, artistic, social — serves to make us aware of the limited space we usually inhabit. And if the music or forms of interaction that are generated aren't all the best, such is the price of trying. So I'm glad that the people behind this are trying.
2 Although the words were an almost-unintelligible mush heard live, the song has some entirely apropos lyrics abut darkness and lights crashing down.
3 Amusingly, given how much confusion about everything else going on, word of the police's arrival flashed through the crowd pretty quickly and effectively. To mix metaphors, it appears that even a broken telephone can be right once a night.
Artist: The Phonemes feat. Maggie MacDonald
Song: Cet air-là [France Gall cover]
Recorded at the Imperial Pub Backroom, October 21, 2010.The Phonemes feat. Maggie MacDonald - Cet air-là
Full review to follow My notes for this set can now be found here — there were good times and guest stars aplenty. Have you been to check out the 50 River concert series in the cozy back room of the Imperial Pub? You should so totally go!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Pride Toronto 2010 (feat. Woodhands / Cyndi Lauper)
South Stage / Queen's Park. Saturday, July 3, 2010.
Time for Pride — the festival for all things LGBTTIQQ2SA1 — once again, and notwithstanding a controversy here or there, out on the streets it was the usual party vibe. Met up with A., and we spent some time exploring the booths while he queued up to get his picture taken with a variety of well-crafted dudes. I'm sure at some point in my past that I wouldn't have thought that I'd be regularly pressed into service to take photos like this.
We had planned things out to get over to the South Stage (the parking lot on the other side of Church Street from Maple Leaf Gardens) a bit early, as it's usually a terrible time getting into the licenced areas, but this time it wasn't so bad — and rather empty inside. Even J. came down for this one, so we at least had company as we waited for the show to start.
We were here to check out local DOR duo Woodhands. Somewhat amusingly, as the show started I realized that in this sea of a million partiers, I actually recognized a good percentage of the small-ish crowd that was up front and dancing. But then, Dan Werb (keybs, vox) and Paul Banwatt (drums) do have a contingent of highly-committed fans. I suppose I'm not amongst their number, but I was first convinced of their merits upon seeing them in performance. Especially live, there's an interesting tension between the sexual desperation of Werb's lyrics and the dance-y release of the music, evident here right off the top with "Pockets" — the lead-off track to this year's Remorsecapade — which has all of the band's strengths on offer. Throughout, Werb would play with a scrunched-up face, as if birthing this music was a pain, while Banwatt smoothly kept the beat as the songs stretched out.
That was followed by the slower tempo of the entirely-appropriate-for-Pride "Can't See Straight" — one of the highlights of their '08 debut, Heart Attack. Banwatt threw down with some rapping, slipping into a verse from Run DMC's "It's Tricky".2 Following a "remix" version of "CP24", Maylee Todd came on stage — wearing a Kids on TV "BRING BACK GAY" shirt and what I guess could be described as a jim-hat — to add her voice to "Dancer", with her silky smooth vocals on the verses punctuated by Werb's awkward-pickup-line chorus: "You're a very good dancer! Whatisyourname?" This one, too, stretched out with an extended outro groove. With the songs coming at 12" dance mix lengths, there were just four titles in the half-hour set. But really good fun — enough to leave a body wanting more.3
Listen to a track from this set here.
After that, we had plenty of time to make a relaxed walk over towards Queen's Park. I had heard some grousing about Pride moving the big concert stage away from the village, but I was cautiously optimistic as we headed over, thinking back to a fair number of shows that I'd enjoyed there under the tree canopy. Sadly, the same cattle-pen approach that Pride uses at their other stages was in force here as well — instead of letting people have the run of the park and creating a hassle for anyone wanting to drink at a beer garden, the whole area was licenced and fenced-off, meaning there a monumentally long queue to get in as we approached.4
The line was so long — almost stretching around the circumference of half the park — that we really didn't feel like standing in it. We wandered and ended up just sitting in a spot outside the fence, figuring we'd try our luck with seeing/hearing out here. But just by chance, we were settled down by what was quickly turned into a second entrance (why weren't they planning for this all along? Weren't they expecting a crowd?) so we joined that rapidly-forming line and got in without too much trouble. There was already a large crowd inside, and we weren't going to get too near the stage without pushing our way there. We weren't that keen. So as the nine o'clock start time approached, and then passed, we waited, as the crowd kept filling in, soon making it tightly packed around us in all directions.
Now, most of the time I'm pretty anti-nostalgia — I prefer it when musicians aren't just stuck replicating moments of past glory. That said, unusually for me, I was here expecting something of a warm hug of fondly-remembered greatest hits. It's a big, festival-style crowd, not a collection of hardcore fans, so I figured there might be a smattering of new material to show artistic determination in amongst the crowdpleasers.
Once things got started, at about twenty after, Cyndi Lauper came out and burst right into material from her new album Memphis Blues, which is exactly what the title implies — Lauper's interpretations of some classic blues sides. For the first couple songs, we were politely impatient and figuring she was getting this out of the way early on. But by the third or fourth song, A. was hitting the limits of his patience, eyes darting around as if there was some sort of gigantic practical joke being played on him.
Long story short, it turned out to be pretty much a full set of "new material". Well — ecch. It didn't help that it was particularly insipid sub-late-night-talk-show-band blooze, really smooth and watered down like a casino cocktail. By the time of about the fourth song, we bailed from where we were and moved back to find, at least, some elbow room. Soon, the greatest source of entertainment was watching A.'s reaction after each song, as he waited for something he recognized. When Lauper led in to a song saying, "here's one by B.B. King!" he threw up his arms in theatrical defeat/disgust. We went and found the beer line.
And then we just wandered the perimeter for a spell, walking past merch stalls and hanging out, which was much more fun than the concert we were now largely ignoring. Oddly though, the further away we moved, the better the view and the sound were, and eventually we found an open area near the back with a nice sightline and not too many people around and A. just grimly waiting, realizing by now that any "hits" were going to be reserved for the finale/encore part of the show. And, indeed, eventually we did get "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", in a blues-band arrangement well-suited to throw off anyone who'd want to actually sing along. After the long leadup to that, it didn't feel cathartic or rewarding so much as, "I waited all night for this?"
Truth be told, I'd've probably gotten the effect that I was looking for at this show if I'd just stayed at home and watched the ending to Romy and Michele's High School Reunion three or four times. The burden of the nostalgia-seeker, I guess. Backhanded kudos are due to Lauper for, like, sticking with her artistic vision and all, but it really felt like the wrong set for this kind of crowd.
I guess all of this — especially dealing with artists proving they're still relevant while waiting for some fondly-remembered songs — is what "concert-going" is like for most people. At least it was a freebie, and I didn't complete the mersh experience with fifty dollar tickets and highway-robbery service charges, but there was definitely with a "Get to the 'workin' overtime' part!" vibe.
With such a crummy experience — company notwithstanding — as we got out of the caged-in zone, I was definitely ready for something less corporate — like standing under a bridge at midnight and hearing some abrasive noise.
1 And yes, this hard-to-remember mouthful deliniates the communities that Pride is serving — in full: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies. Note that last one, giving official sanction that Pride is officially for straight people now, too! I think I'm going to try and remember it from now on by pronouncing it "legbittikwakwatoosa" — useful for any occasion where you want to say "queer" but feel that seven syllables would work better than one.
2 "This is where I tell that story about that girl I met last year at Pride," he said by way of introduction to the verse. That's actually an under-advertised but generally acknowledged side of Pride — plenty of those "Allies" are out to hook up, too.
3 Woodhands will be playing at Lee's Palace on Friday, November 19th at what will almost certainly be a sweaty good time.
4 Obviously, the bigger problem here is the archaic liquor laws that Pride has to operate under. But there are other solutions that don't punish the young and the part of the crowd that doesn't care to drink anyway.
Friday, October 15, 2010
The Sadies (Sarah Slean)
Harbourfront Centre. Thursday, July 1, 2010.
Out, once again, for some Canada Day musics down at Harbourfront Centre. And while I was rather enthused for The Sadies, I had no particular interest in Sarah Slean who was up first, but I wanted to stake out some realestate. So I got there in good enough time to grab a very nice spot that was central and not too far back as the seats were filling in. When things got underway, Slean took the stage and led the performance off with a rendition of "O Canada". Which I guess I should begrudge on the national holiday, but it still seems a little too rah-rah for my liking. Maybe I come from a different generation, but back in my day we considered ostentatious displays of patriotism to be pretty gauche.1 Amusingly, perhaps, her first song after sitting down at her piano was the less-nationalistic "California". Reading around a bit — I wasn't particularly familiar with her work going in — I note that Slean claims a cabaret influence in her work. Perhaps that accounts for the slight patrician pout, an almost too-calculated set of gesticulations and some carefully over-mannered enunciations, which were tempered by her almost giddy ebullience — my notes included, in block letters, "suspiciously perky".
The upshot of which was a largely "big" feel to the music, even with a small backing band (guitar, drums, stand-up bass). Her piano-led songs also drifted toward the smoothly bland. "Get Home" was mildly nice, but felt like it was ready to be deployed for an TV-episode-ending dramatic montage. Or perhaps it's that I found her slower-paced material more convincing, as I'd say that "Goodnight Trouble" worked well enough, too. Obviously talented but just not on my wavelength, I did feel a bit of the delight that a lot of the people around me were getting with closer "Day One", but on the whole I didn't come away from this feeling that I'm going to have to check out more of her work.
There was a surprisingly large turnover after Slean left the stage — apparently heaps of people had showed up just for her. As the headliners' set time approached, there were still seats to be had scattered around the crowd, though things filled in with the late-arriving crowd who only wanted to The Sadies. There was the usual highly-mixed crowd that you often see at the Harbourfront, which is always good to see. I was delighted by the pair of adorable older women beside me — dead ringers for Fiff and Fam, dressed in their Sunday best. I got the impression they were related to someone in the band, but they were definitely there to enjoy themselves, and not just out of familial obligation.
A perfect choice to celebrate Canada Day, The Sadies took the stage to the closer-to-home (if somewhat kitschy) strains of "A Place To Stand, A Place To Grow". Long-time fixtures on the local music scene, the four-piece (brothers Travis and Dallas Good up front on guitars, plus Sean Dean on stand-up bass and Mike Belitsky on drums) seem to have broken out a bit to the wider consciousness with their newest album (this year's fine Darker Circles) getting a Polaris nomination and more firmly putting to rest some of the perpetual "They're a great live band, but..." sorts of comments.
Here, they started off in a frenzy, powering through a quick succession of songs, everything presented with their patented blend of country-surf-twang, a musical approach that allows them to stretch out in a variety of directions, from gospel to psychedelia. An early highlight was "Strange Birds", which was first heard on The Mayors of the Moon, the band's ace 2003 collaboration with Jon Langford. With Dallas Good's baritone vocal, the song felt recast in a slightly more somber tone than the original. Now settled in, the band played the first couple cuts ("Another Year Again", "Kut Corners") from the new one.
It's interesting to see how The Sadies have integrated some of their diverse directions (and massive warehouse of songs) by structuring the show almost as mini-sets, with two or three linked songs punctuated by one the kick-ass instrumentals that were once their primary stock-in-trade. When, after almost half an hour, the band paused long enough to chat for a moment, Dallas Good was humble to a fault, and then boosted the good vibes by bringing out his mother, Margaret Good, to sing on "Loved on Look", which has a "shoop shoop" chorus that can get stuck in your head for hours at a time. They'd be joined by more family, including father Bruce Good ("it's family day and Canada Day!" he beamed into the mic) and a cousin on violin for "Higher Power" and a turbocharged "Stay a Little Longer".2
And after that, the songs kept coming at a dizzying pace. There were some jaunts through the back catalogue: the title track from 2002's Stories Often Told, plus "What's Left Behind" and "The Trial" (from New Seasons, 2007). A lot of them came and went lightning quick, but the band showed they can stretch out when they want to, like on newer track "Tell Her What I Said". The main set ended with a fiery run through "Tiger Tiger" before the band left the stage for a quick encore break.
Coming back, after the thirty second burst of "16 Mile Creek", they changed gears and played "a song that's fitting for the lightshow", a superb cover of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" that went blow-for-blow with the fireworks hovering over the water in the distance. And then, as if that weren't enough, they returned for a second encore, stretching things right up to the curfew with a monumental garage rock medley of Them songs, starting and ending on the immortal "Gloria", but also touching on "I Can Only Give You Everything", "Baby Please Don't Go" and "Mystic Eyes". Amazing stuff that the band killed on, despite Dallas blowing out a string not far into it. Fully living up to their reputation, this was a Canada Day show to remember.
Check out a couple tracks from this set here.
1 When I was growing up, national pride was always expressed like religious faith in a Dreyer film — with vaguely-grim, clenched-jaw internal resolve. Even the word "patriotism" seems faintly un-Canadian to me.
2 The Goods are, indeed, a noteworthy musical family. Dallas and Travis' father plays with their uncles Brian and Larry Good as The Good Brothers, a highly-acclaimed group in the country scene. I didn't catch the name of the violin-playing cousin — I thought I heard Bessie Good, but that doesn't turn up anything online.