Archive for April, 2009

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Leonard & Avan

April 27, 2009

I’ve been trying for more than a week to think of something original to say about Leonard Cohen’s concert at GM Place on April 19. In every review of the show I’ve glanced at, writers have raved about the 74-year-old’s performance. I completely agree with them – it was a superb, three-hour show, which confirmed Cohen’s status as a national treasure. But that doesn’t make for a very interesting blog post.

Then I thought of something, and it came to me at a completely different type of concert. Through serendipity, we got free fifth row tickets for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s season debut at the Orpheum on April 25. The evening’s main event was Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43”, featuring 21-year-old pianist Avan Yu (who looks like he’s about 15). I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to perform something as mind-blowingly difficult as the Rachmaninoff work, but from my prime seat, I could see that Yu had no fear. And thanks to the big screens mounted at either side of the Orpheum stage, I could also see that his fingers were flying.

Yu’s technique is so advanced that he doesn’t have to think about the mechanics of where to place his fingers; he can just focus on bringing out the soul of the music. While marveling at Yu’s technique, I thought of a moment in Cohen’s concert. It came during “Tower of Song”, when he played a keyboard that sounded like a toy instrument. He played a solo that consisted of a very simple, slightly bluesy, slowly played line.

In the time that it took Cohen to play that solo, Yu could have played a zillion notes. But Cohen has his own kind of technique, which informs his singing, songwriting, poetry and piano-playing. It’s a rare technique that combines soul, wisdom, humour, spirituality and humility. So because of that technique, Cohen’s toy solo impressed me as much as Yu’s virtuosity. Both are valid and both made a lasting impression.

Yeah, OK, that wasn’t especially profound. But at least I found a way to link Leonard Cohen and Avan Yu. I bet that’s a first for the blogosphere!

Jian Ghomeshi’s excellent interview with Cohen, who was a tad more cooperative than Billy Bob Thornton:

I could only find one YouTube video of Avan Yu, and despite the poor sound quality, it demonstrates his phenomenal technique:

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Lamb of God, Live in Vancouver

April 13, 2009

For the past few weeks, all I’ve been thinking about are three words: Lamb. Of. God.

Finally, the day of the concert came, and I was stoked as ever. First, Devin and I (the guitarist in my band) went down to Scrape Records, the local all-metal record store, for the Lamb of God autograph session. They were all really chill, and it was cool despite waiting in line for a while. Then, we finally arrived at the arena after the long bus ride. Just as we walked in, the Municipal Waste set started. Devin and I both agreed that they were performing well, but a lot of their songs sound pretty much the same. Next, God Forbid. Their intro: Star Wars, The Phantom Menace Theme Song!!! It was pretty hysterical. Devin had never heard of them before, and he was really impressed. He also asked jokingly why their singer was T-Pain. Next was the interesting part: As I Lay Dying, the Christian band among a bill of bands with no religious beliefs. Surprisingly, a lot of the Lamb of God fans were really getting into it, and there was a massive circle pit for “Within Destruction”. Children Of Bodom’s intro was even more hilarious. A collection of various samples of the word “f**k” started off the madness of “Silent Night, Silent Bodom”. Alexi Laiho was in top form, taking his famous stance as he shredded endlessly on solos in songs like “Hate Me!”. After the seemingly long break, the lights went down, and lighters/cell phones came out for Lamb of God’s intro, “The Passing”. Then the crowd roared as the band appeared on stage, and started “In Your Words”. The band somehow got the whole crowd going, and it was pretty amazing. During the middle of the set, we all sang Happy Birthday to Alexi Laiho, and Jake, one of the sound engineers. In conclusion, I had a really great time at the show, and it’s a concert experience I’ll never forget.

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My tape player ate Art Bergmann!

April 9, 2009

Art Bergmann has had to endure a lot over the years: the poverty that goes with being a musician, John Cale’s ill-suited production on Crawl With Me, arthritis, a bad back, etc. But now this: ripped to shreds, severed, dead. I’m talking about my vintage cassette copy of Bergmann’s Sexual Roulette. My tape player ate it.

It all started with another Bergmann recording – his 10-song demo from 1984 that was later released as Vultura Freeway but is now out-of-print. In an attempt to recapture what Art used to sound like before that list of ills, I’ve been listening to the demo a lot. Obsessively. Most of the music I listen to these days is in MP3 format, so I got it in my head that the demo, which is on an old Maxell C90 tape, needs to be digitally converted.

I found instructions for making the conversion and set up all of the equipment. But when I pushed down the play button on the tape player, it sprang up right away. I pushed it again and again and the same thing kept happening. Here’s where I did one smart thing: I took out my treasured Vultura Freeway tape and put in Sexual Roulette, which I treasure slightly less. Here’s where I made a bonehead move: I pushed play again and FORCED the button to stay down. Bad idea. I could tell that nothing was moving inside the player and I heard a sick sound. With trepidation, I slowly opened the door and my worst fears were realized. There was carnage, everywhere. A long section of the tape had come out of the cassette, and the mangled tape was tightly twisted around the apparatus. For a long time I tried to gingerly extract it, but the inevitable happened. The tape snapped.

Art & Carnage:

Art carnage

Stunned by the finality of it, I quietly fished out the pieces. I wondered where exactly the break occurred. Was it during “Bar of Pain”, when Art sang “Bar of pain. Not again.” Or maybe it was in “Deathwatch”, in the part that goes “Our luck has now run its course. All wagers lost on a fast dark horse.” Somehow what transpired seemed fitting, like it was a metaphor for the broken lives that Art sang about on the album.

Scene of the crime (after the body parts were removed):

Art scene of the crime

Postscript: I went to the iTunes Store, where I actually paid for and downloaded Sexual Roulette. The music sounds great, way better than it did on the tape. So there’s a happy ending. But hearing Sexual Roulette this way is only making me more determined to go digital with that demo, which remains in one piece. Anyone have a working tape player I can borrow?

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Back to the Beat

April 6, 2009

When it comes to buying concert tickets, I normally act swiftly and decisively. Seconds after tickets go on sale for a show I want to go to, I’m online, typing that captcha as quickly as I can decipher it. Or if I can avoid Ticketmaster’s outrageous service charges, I get to Zulu or Red Cat as fast as humanly possible.

The English Beat was a different story. I knew that the group was coming to Vancouver as part of its 30th anniversary tour, and I thought about buying tickets, but I didn’t do anything about it. This is despite the fact that music by the Beat figured prominently during my UBC days. Back then, I spent most of my free time in the Ubyssey student newspaper office. At the Ubyssey, we advocated for social justice in our reporting and otherwise partied hard. So it made total sense to listen to the English Beat – the multi-racial band perfected the art of combining political protest with insanely danceable ska rhythms on songs like “Stand Down Margaret” and “Two Swords”.

English Beat

Somehow I never saw the Beat in concert, which meant they were on my list of bands to see before I die. But I hesitated. One reason is because I now listen to a lot of whispery music of the Nick Drake/Bon Iver/Keren Ann variety, so I wasn’t sure if I could relate to the Beat’s exuberance anymore. As well, the version of the English Beat that performed at Richard’s last Saturday only had one original member: Dave Wakeling. While he was the Beat’s frontman, I’m always suspicious of “revival” bands, like the ones that play at the River Rock Casino. I worried that the English Beat without key original members Saxa or Ranking Roger just wouldn’t be the same. Then a friend told me she was going, and other friends said they would be there, and I was sufficiently swayed to buy a ticket the day before the gig.

About two songs in I knew I made the right decision. Wakeling and the band played a rousing version of “Tears of a Clown”, and that alone made my night. I’ve always loved the Beat’s cover of the Smokey Robinson tune, and it was a thrill to hear it live. They went on to play a substantial set of most of the Beat’s best-known songs, and also some by General Public. Aside from Wakeling (who was in good form), and Ranking Roger substitute toaster Antonee First Class, none of the band members stood out. But they did a credible job on the old material and got me to move a bit on the dancefloor. It brought back memories of dancing our asses off to mix tapes with Beat songs at sweaty house parties.

Cross one must-see band off the list. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of Nick Drake et al. for more quiet contemplation.

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QOTSA Cover at a Strings Concert?!

April 3, 2009

Click-click-click-click.

Ah, the four hits of jam block at the beginning of Queens Of The Stone Age’s “Little Sister”. This new band that I’ve been practicing with for the past few weeks performed our cover of that song last night, and it was pretty awesome (despite the fact that I had to use my plastic MP cowbell instead of a jam block). By the way, in the band, I’m the only guy from a different school. So when I first heard that we were going to perform at their school strings concert, I just laughed to myself. I honestly don’t think something like that would ever happen at my school.

There are actually some people who think that the song we played is a harsh song. I guess they haven’t really heard too much metal. My friend Cole who was singing and playing guitar that night was so stoked, he had asked four different people to film the one song. Overall, the whole thing was pretty good. But you can judge for yourself: