So, here we are with the Year That Was. January 6th is New Year’s Day for the Aging Rockstar Reviews, the first video review having been posted on January 6th, 2008. And now we will carry through with the perennial, annual exercise of taking a look back.
The best all-round show I went to had to be on June 20th at The ANZA Club: The Pack A.D., The Cadaver Dogs, The TVees, and Val Graham. It was a great bill with the music starting low and slow off the guitar of Valerie Graham and finishing with the head pounding licks and fills of Becky and Maya. An evening to remember to be sure.
Best Gig, runner-up:
The Jolts “Haute Voltage” record release party, July 13th, at The Cobalt with The Parallels and The High School Girls (now Mexican Drug Patrol).
The Stupidest Thing I Heard:
One of The Stumblers Inn’s, [CiTR] Shindig, comment slips advised Graham Myrfield (bass) that it was unprofessional to wear a band shirt on stage. I’ll be sure to mention this to Iron Maiden and The Ramones as it readily apparent that they too need the career advice of a college radio, textbook music fan who probably couldn’t tune a guitar if he even owned one.
The Smartest Thing I Heard:
Ferdy Belland telling James Woods of The Hotel Lobbyists that, “If [bands] don’t compare notes, there’ll never be a scene” in the parking lot of The Biltmore Cabaret.
The Worst Thing I Heard:
“Mike Gurr is dead.”
Best Out-of-Town Show:
Hands down, it had to be The Green Mountain Music Festival in Nanaimo. It was a day of music, fun, sun, beer and… well… you get the idea. Any day that includes the full musical spectrum between gals like Shiloh Lindsey and Val Graham and the bone-shaking, power chords of Bison can’t be all bad. Besides, raising a little less than $4000 for Cystic Fibrosis was a nice touch as well.
Best Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of Moment:
About halfway through Edmonton’s Wet Secrets’ set (“The Secret March” as I recall) at The Biltmore (March 31st ), I leaned over to Grant Lawrence (one-time Smuggler, long-time CBC R3 DJ, and all-time friend) and said “This might just be the best band I have ever seen.” Their catchy hooks, tongue-in-cheek stoicness, and fun-loving raunch made for an enjoyable evening, and when the instant struck, left me with a real, Rock ‘n’ Roll moment.
Most Improved Band:
*Note: being designated “Most Improved Band” should in no way suggest that they sucked to begin with. BSC
Murder She Wrote: This motley crew have never failed to impress every time I have seen them play. They consistently hone their stage “show” and are an act that shouldn’t be missed.
Runner-up: The TVees
I once joked about The TVees saying that the “difference between The TVees and a slut is that The TVees get tighter the more they play.”
Best Dance Band That Isn’t a “Dance” Band:
The TVees, The Tranzmitors, The Parallels, and Thee Manipulators all share this title for me. If you are at one of their shows and your feet aren’t moving, check your pulse because you’re probably dead.
I am torn here between The Jolts and Cambridge, but they’re really two types of punk. The Jolts play the mid-70 New York punk (a la Ramones, New York Dolls) and Cambridge are experts at the Post-Maclaren/Sex Pistols political punk that got supercharged in the 80s.
The Hermit, hands down. Though it would be a blessing for the band, it would be a curse for any Top 40 pop band to take The Hermit on tour: fans would realize that pop played on instruments with analog vocals is really that much better.
Best Surf Rock:
The Surf Messiahs. Saw these guys once and it was all it took. If this is your music, they are your band.
Honourable Mention: Mexican Drug Patrol (formerly The High School Girls). Harder than the Surf Messiahs but a gas on stage (pay close attention to the drummer, he’s awesome).
Swank. I’ve said it before and I am certain that I will say it again: Swank is everything that was/is right about country music.
Best Folk [-Rock]:
Valerie Graham. I can’t do any justice to her in words that she can’t do for herself in music. Check her out.
No Horses are incredible at what they do but I’ll honest in saying that I am waiting to hear the next album because they are so good they may have plateaued, leaving themselves no more “up” to strive for (if that made sense to anyone but me, please let me know).
The Beladeans. Gut rocking music from a band that takes no prisoners. If there is in fact a “brown note”, these’ll be the guys to find it.
Bands I’m Waiting For:
The Cadaver Dogs played their last show “for a while” at The Railway Club and if it was their last show forever that’d be a true shame. Likewise, there is not one person in my circle who wouldn’t cry for joy when The Hotel Lobbyists take the stage again.
Best All Around:
Minto Chipman (formerly The Smokes). It took me a while to warm up to this band but after several meetings and a handful of gigs they really started to grow on me. Hard to peg down to an actual genre, Minto Chipman is like a revival show you can drink at. They fill a room with an energy that leads you to believe they might be the only ones in the room that don’t take their amazing sound too seriously.
Runner up: Parlour Steps. This band is awesome. That’s about all I can say: awesome.
So, that was the year as I saw it. This list could have been twice the size it is but it ends here. As stated, this is how “I” saw the scene last year and desperately hope to expand my experience within it in 2009.
This list could go on forever, and with enough time, it just might. BSC
If you want to play the ultimate game of full-contact musical chairs, listen to The Beladeans.
If you want to dream in full-colour surround sound, listen to The Hermit.
If you want to fall in love again, listen to Jane Sawyer.
If you want to dance until your feet sue for damages, listen to The TVees.
If you want to verify you’re not the only one feeling this way, listen to Murder She Wrote.
If you want to turn the world off for a while and smile, listen to Thee Manipulators.
If you want to do something about the 10 Red Bulls you just drank, listen to No Horses.
If you want to pretend you don’t know what happened to that bottle of whiskey, listen to The Stumblers Inn.
If you want to party until the wheels come off, listen to Los Furios.
If you want to take part in a loud, shameless, fun-fest, listen to Dirty and the Derelicts.
If you want to find an enjoyable reason to get your hearing checked, listen to The Pack A.D..
If you want to take a Jack Daniels bubble-bath, listen to Shiloh Lindsay.
If you want to stick it to “The Man,” twice, listen to Cambridge.
If you want to know how they sang ’em “back then,” listen to Valerie Graham.
If you want to attend a revival you can drink at, listen to The Smokes.
If you want to take a walk through a painting, listen to Parlour Steps.
If you want to guess what CBGB’s might have been like, listen to The Jolts.
If you want to rearrange your furniture without touching it, listen to Black Betty.
If you want to do battle with Captain Bligh on the high seas, listen to The Dreadnoughts.
If you want to two-step with an urban angel, listen to Swank.
If you want to check your brain for stress fractures, listen to The Surf Messiahs.
If you want to see what colour tastes like, listen to The Green Hour Band.
If you want to find out if you can successfully dance with a full highball, listen to The Easy Brothers.
If you want to simutaneously crack and beer and a smile, listen to Cadaver Dogs.
PART TWO… under construction.
For weeks now, I have wanted to write a review that would give me the opportunity to use the word “constipated” in some creative, contextual way: this, however, is not that review. Try as one might (though I am not sure why they would), it is impossible to equate that word with this artist and/or her music.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Miss Jane Sawyer. Sawyer first arrived on the music scene in 1993 with the “pop/rock outfit,” Dick and Jane. In 1995, a win on CFOX’s “Demolisten Derby” gave the band a well-deserved career boost. But after 10 years and opening slots for acts such as Jewel and Art Bergman, the band gave up the ghost shortly after recording their third album with [4NonBlondes] producer, Mark Hensely.
After an English degree at Simon Fraser University, Sawyer re-entered the fold with a new group, tROUBLE, in 2007. Composed of Sawyer, Taylor Little (The Bughouse Five, The Payola$ – NOT the porn star), Jordie Dammet (The Hotel Lobbyists) and whoever else was free and willing when the time came, tROUBLE made a good go of it until spring of this year when Sawyer and Little parted ways. Sawyer now plays a series of solo shows and duets with, saxophonist, Max Murphy (Five Alarm Funk), and several others. Sawyer, Dammet, and Murphy will be recording together soon, with a video shoot in the works for February.
As with almost every other musician I have met in the past year, I was introduced to Sawyer by Dammet at a show a few months ago. After bumping into her at countless venues, it dawned on me that I had never heard her play. Over the past couple weeks, I’d sought to rectify that mistake.
I first catch a short set of Sawyer’s at The Coppertank, a Kitsilano mainstay for as long as this city has had mainstays it seems. The long-running, Sunday night open-mic was a fantastic venue to hear Sawyer play for the first time.
Her three song set was enough to put the hooks in you for good. If you happen to be an indie filmmaker who is looking for the perfect song for your movie about a good man, wrongly accused, who almost finds redemption while gaining almost as much as he lost, Sawyer’s your gal. Her stage presence is easygoing but not frivolous and her music is light but not shallow. She writes love songs that are about all of love’s aspects and they are delivered in such a way that you can easily tell that she is one of the few composers of love songs that actually enjoys being in love.
I catch Sawyer again the next Thursday at The Railway Club. She is playing a cozy set in the back room as part of Puddle City Arts, a series designed to “showcase some of the beautiful works that are being created behind closed doors.” After being concerned that no one would show up, Sawyer finds that it is drinking room only when she steps up to the microphone accompanied by Scott Paulley, The Awkward Stage’s most recent addition.
The set is again quite free and warmed by Sawyer’s sincere “stage charm.” When watching a show, I often look for the little, extra-personal moments on stage: moments like Maya and Becky from The Pack A.D. catching each other in a smile; Aaron Chapman of The Town Pants getting up on his toes to bring his tin whistle to the microphone; or the devilish grin on the face Graham Myrfield, bass player for The Stumblers Inn, when a hilarious one-liner is forthcoming. With Sawyer, it is a wink, always directed at someone who, if you turn to see, is already gone. The wonderful thing about the wink is that it is not the wink you get from a Hooters waitress when you order the hot wings special and 10 pitchers of beer; it is the knowing wink you give a friend when it is time to rush the hostage takers.
Female singer/songwriters often get lumped together (often by designations such as “female singer/songwriters”) but it is not entirely fair and almost always not a correct assumption. Apart from seven notes to choose from and two ovaries, Sawyer and other singer/songwriters I am personally familiar with (Val Graham, Shiloh Lindsey, Jody Glenham), can’t be considered just part of “the group.” They manage to make all the songs they play, originals and covers alike, their own creations. And though they may owe for the legacy, they can thank only themselves for their place in it, if only their modesty would allow.
You can give her a listen here: http://www.myspace.com/janesawyersongs
I’m not sure why but it is really freakin’ hot in The Railway Club tonight. And I don’t mean “hawt” in the “woo hoo, everyone partay!” sense. I mean “hot” as in whomever you paid to fix the thermostat should be recalled, put on stage, and shot with a ball of his own shit in front of this sweaty crowd. The bottom line, I suppose, is that the heat is on full and it doesn’t really matter if it is deliberate or custodial error. Pretty, sleeveless young women walk past with a greasy tussle in their hair and a sheen on their sculpted arms. I guess sweat might not be such a bad thing on a night like tonight. Besides, sweat puts the party toxins back in the air where they belong.
It is in the midst of this heat wave that The Surf Messiahs take to the stage. I have known of The Surf Messiahs for some time but this is the first I have seen them play. I heard a few of their tracks while crashing on Mike L’s couch after a Pack A.D. gig. I liked it then and I am looking forward to it tonight.
On a lateral line, marked one to ten (one having no actual value other than representing Dick Dale’s music and ditto for ten except that it is Agent Orange), The Surf Messiahs hit around a three. A band like Mexican Drug Patrol (formerly The High School Girls) drop in around five or six, their sound being ever so slightly harder than The Surf Messiahs.
*Authors Note: It has been brought to my attention that the paragraph above may seem as though The Surf Messiahs “rate” a three. The One to Ten Scale was meant to illustrate the spectrum of the genre, not to be used as a value system. The Surf Messiahs kick ass and rate an 11 on any scale you choose to use. BSC
Truth be told, instrumental surf rock is not one of my favourite genres music to listen to. When listening to either Dick Dale or Agent Orange (the entire scope of my instrumental surf music experience), I usually tune out about three or four songs into the album and start daydreaming about Tarantino films; however, like a lot of things, seeing the music played live is a different experience. I find myself hanging on to every note coming from the stage.
At the midpoint in the set, they announce that they “are going to play a slow song” and then tune their guitars. I don’t know if this is a misplaced introduction or a very subtle, yet funny, joke. All in all, a very enjoyable set. Even if instrumental surf music isn’t your thing, I am betting that a set by The Surf Messiahs might just be, so be sure to check them out should the chance ever present itself.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any hotter in The Railway Club, The Beladeans hit the stage running. Mike Hawk’s heavy guitar comes ripping off the stage like the sheet lightning that illuminates The Rockies in summer. Followed closely by “Dusty” Doug Smith’s rolling thunder bass that comes chasing through the foothills. It is strangely fitting that the drummer’s name is Rob Lord, because he is the One keeping this natural “KABOOM Fest” on target with both lightning and thunder from his feet and hands (Geez, Baron… hyperbole much?).
It is kind of a running joke with anyone who reads this blog or watches my videos with any regularity that at least once every two weeks I fall head over heels in love with a new band. Well kids, this week that band is The Beladeans. I couldn’t get enough of their set. Not necessarily music to make love to but it pounds right into you and makes you think dirty thoughts. Combined with the temperature in The Railway Club tonight, a Beladeans’ set make male and female both want to head out on the prowl to really fuck the hell out of somebody. When The Beladeans share The Biltmore stage with The Pack A.D. ten days from now, it’d be a good idea for all prudes to lock up their sons and daughters and board up the windows. Statues will be fucking in the streets when that shockwave hits. The Beladeans remind me of the way Big Sugar used to sound, but there is something a bit stickier, more primal, to their live sound.
I know a girl who “did” Big Sugar. I’d like to think that just as the band was bringing her to orgasm she screamed “Beladeans!” Heh… It’s still better than “Rosebud.”
With the heat still rising, The Cadaver Dogs start their set. Having The Cadaver Dogs crank up a set in a sweltering room is akin to lobbing a hand grenade into an inferno for shits and giggles. The Cadaver Dogs, as per always, rock it real hard with their own brand of redneck rock ‘n’ roll.
Jay “Gunther” Douglas beats furious time on the drums as my friend (and my former drummer) leans over and says, “That drummer is fucking excellent!” Mike L. has regained his strength from The Surf Messiahs’ killed-or-be-killed set and Doug’s had five minutes to down a beer and straighten his tie between The Beladeans and Cadaver Dogs’ sets. And Mike O.? Well, he’s Mike O., isn’t he? The man cracks more smiles than a Cheshire Cat while he’s playing and whips his SG around like Hemingway with a marlin on the line. I think my favourite part of whatching Mike O. front The Cadaver Dogs is the glint he gets in his eye when he is really on, sort of a “fuck yeah!” in a twinkle.
Towards the end of the set, a tiny blonde, introduced as Doug’s grad date from 1983, takes the stage and the mic for a ripping rendition of AC/DC’s “Sin City.” After Nettie descends from the stage, The Cadaver Dogs finish off the evening with “Beer Flavoured Beer.”
Tonight is rumoured to be The Cadaver Dogs’ last live set for a while. I hope that it is a short while because the scene needs bands like The Cadaver Dogs: they are good, friendly, and the best damn closers in the city. Plus, you can’t keep a good band down. One day soon, they will find themselves together again and sharing in Mike O.’s impish smile as a group, just like a group of juvenile delinquents who, years later in middle age, find a paper bag full of dog shit and know exactly what to do with it.
It’s a Thursday night and I am bored to tears. I remember seeing an interesting entry on a friend’s Facebook page: **** plans to attend Two-Step Thursday. As far as I know he didn’t; I did.
Vancouver’s Railway Club is one of my favourite people watching venues of all time. I usually grab and stool and just take in the conversations. There’s always a wide variety. Tonight a certain, local arts columnist is having a pint and a smoke and discussing the demise of Metallica, the surprising success of Celtic Punk music (a la The Real MacKenzies), Celine Dion, and wheatgrass (His A- rating for Dion’s Vancouver show was a misprint btw). He remembers me as “the guy with the blog” and we chat for a while.
On stage are Rich Hope and the Blue Rich Rangers. With the exception of “Hotel Yorba”, I have a hard time distinguishing the covers from originals. This is likely because Rich Hope and the band make every song their own and in doing so get the whole room tapping their toes to the music. Had Helen Keller been in attendance, she too would be keeping time with her heel and toe. The crowd are right into it and for the very first time I see dancing, two-stepping, at The Railway Club.
The band has an amazing on stage presence and is certainly a joy to watch. Dressed in denim and plaid work shirts, they look as though at any moment they may leap of the stage and help Pony Boy and Soda Pop beat some Socs back to the west side.
Rodney Decroo sits in for a bit. Visually, his beard and tasselled leather jacket may stand apart from Rich and the band but musically, he is definitely in step with the world tonight and they play great together.
The band start another set around midnight but I am heading out the door to catch a long, blue limousine that won’t wait for me, no matter how much fun I am having.
Life is ever changing, but there was one constant I thought I could always count on: the fact that I thought I would continue to hatecountry music; however, now I’m not so sure. Like the movie killers, who stalk their prey slowly from behind then attack without warning, likeable country music has been sneaking up on me for some time and I think it’s about to pounce.
I promise you it’s not my fault.
I have always been a fan of the old “biggies”: Cash, Jennings, Nelson, etc, but I have always given the newer country a pass. Garth Brooks sucks, Toby Keith is a half-literate jingoist, and Shania Twain is nothing more than a singing belly-button. Don’t even get me started on Big and Rich. What I like about the “outlaws,” if you will, is their ability to pen and perform a song about the darker recesses of soul, the pains of love, and the true wonderment of being alive without sounding contrived. The only contemporary, mainstream country song to come anywhere near accomplishing this is “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks which is essentially a giant “Fuck You!” to a vast majority of country music fans, deservedly so.
Recently, I have felt country music closing in on me. But unlike the Garth Brooks explosion of the 1990s, this time the music is good.
The first time I saw Swank I didn’t. It was at The Town Pants 10 year anniversary show and I kind of drank their set out of my short term memory. When I was invited to the release party for “Campfire Psalms” at The Railway Club, I enjoyed one of the best CD release parties I had ever attended. Added to that, Swank’s particular brand of country hearkens back to when country music was as true as a good pick-up truck.
While on the subject of pick-ups… If spotlighting deer in a rusted out Chevy is how you like to get your kicks, check out the uproarious redneck rock of The Cadaver Dogs. Their latest album, “Pariah Social,” is probably what The Clash would have sounded like if Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had spent their teenage years in a small town where cow tipping was the closest proxy for political rebellion.
If twang is your thang, get yourself out to see Shiloh Lindsey. Okay, so she doesn’t really have a lot of “twang,” but this country girl can outparty the boys and live to write lyrics about it. All 10 tracks on “For My Smoke” are packed with enough talent and true country sensibility to make Gretchen Wilson move to a Himalayan monastery and shut the fuck up forever. At least one can hope.
Fence sitting out in the pasture are The Stumbler’s Inn. If you didn’t know what to expect, one glance at Al Myrfield as he takes the stage might make you think that you’re in for a 45 minute, Death Metal assault; however, with one strum of his guitar as the band kicks into “Rely” or “Old Tin Road,” the audience relaxes and starts bobbing along to some of the best country-informed rock in the city. If you can imagine The Doors being bound to Blue Rodeo, soaked in whiskey, then set on fire in centre of a cannabis crop, you’d be getting close.
(When The Stumbler’s Inn played CiTR’s “Shindig” at The Railway Club a couple of weeks ago, one of the judges’ comment sheets suggested the country was “forced.” I’m not sure how in the hell one would or could force country but the comment was still better than “I didn’t come here to see Pearl Garden!” which is the comment my band got at Shindig 16 years ago.)
Bands like Earlstown Winter and artists like Valerie Graham aren’t necessarily country acts but effectuate the positive legacy of the travelling balladeers. Sometimes upbeat, sometimes brooding, their songs often have a swing to them that can’t quite disguise the fact the something more than just a toe-tapping good time is buried in the lyrics. The songs are all those little stories we’re not sure we’ve heard before but are certain we’d lived them at one time or another. One can easily imagine Val Graham singing lullabies at The Crossroads and I am certain that Jonathan Truefitt and Earlstown Winter could play any roadhouse in the world and win the crowd over in eight bars or less.
I usually classify music one of two ways: good or bad. For a very long time, even the slightest hint of country in an artist’s music was a one-way ticket to the “suck” bin, but with all the incredible country-ish music coming out of our city right now, it is a habit I will need to reconsider.
Imagine stepping into an elevator and pushing the button for your floor. The elevator begins to ascend. It’s a pleasant ride. When you reach your chosen floor, the door opens. But before you can exit, the door slams shut and you go back to the ground floor, only to go through this again and again and again and again. When it finally appears that the ride has ended, you receive a bill in the thousands. Welcome to studio recording.
Any person who went through this exercise and remained sane would never again complain when they hear how much a musician makes after he/she has finally “made it.”
There are moments of sheer genius and exhilaration in the studio but they are often hidden in long periods of pedantic perfection seeking. But those periods can so often pay off with an album you can be proud of.
This afternoon, I am embedded with The Hotel Lobbyists at The Factory. They seem to be holding up well. A marathon recording session can do in the sanest of psyches. The repetition tends to wear heavy on people. Repetition can bum you out or allow you to finally find that one, little thing you’ve been missing. Like a surfer riding a wave, the object is not to fall off.
Jordie Dammet (bass) crashes on the couch while Mike Gurr (drums) and Jim Legacy (vocals, guitar) sit up at the mixing board, relentlessly teasing Jordan Isaacs (guitar), who stands in the studio putting down guitar tracks.
Bad jokes tend to take on a life of their own in the studio. When my band first recorded, it was creepy Hannibal Lector and Buffalo Bill impersonations that kept the mood light. Today, for reasons I don’t even try to understand (outsiders never get the joke two days into its life), Mutt Lange is being put through the wringer (along with Isaacs). I am reminded of the schoolmaster from “The Wall” screaming, “Wrong! Do it again!” Except this time, it’s, “Yeah, that was really cool. Now do it again!”
When Isaacs is finished, the playback begins. Something in the music hearkens back to a time, twenty or thirty years ago, before rock music started to suck en masse. Pumping through the speakers in the control room is 70s guitar music with new energy, a new perspective, and with none of the pretentiousness of the “Arena Rock” fucktards. The Hotel Lobbyists care greatly about how they sound but never forget exactly what it is that they are doing.
This is how rock and roll should sound and The Hotel Lobbyists are one of the Vancouver bands that are splitting rock and new wave back into their respective corners again, attempting to draw rock and roll away from the edge of wishy-washy, emo shit.
As I listen to the playback of Isaacs’ lead on “Antelopes and Snakes”, I think to myself, “That is a rock guitar.”
There is a real art to producing something that people can go back and check and when they get into the real nitty-gritty, “producer stuff”, I retire quietly to the kitchenette in the studio’s foyer. Studio recording is cool but it can try the patience of a stone. Besides, I don’t need to be in there; I know what’s happening. I’ve been here and this is where the band and the producer dig in and go inch by inch through the tracks, the place where “tone” no longer means sound, but borders on atmosphere.
From what I’ve heard, The Hotel Lobbyists have a winner on their hands. As I leave, they are still slugging it out with the tracks in the control room. Walking down Main towards Pat’s Pub, I smile at how cool it is to hang out in a recording studio and how glad I am that I’m not still trapped in there.