Archive for September, 2009

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Finally: The Pet Shop Boys live in Vancouver

September 26, 2009

A week ago the Pet Shop Boys performed in Vancouver for the first time in their 28-year career, and I was there. This was a big deal for me – PSB is one of my all-time favourite pop groups. For years I’ve been captivated by the Brit duo’s dance/electro-pop sound, their delicious irony and their ambiguous personas.

But in the days leading up to the sold-out concert, when I mentioned to some people that I was going to the show, they looked at me with blank expressions. I think they were befuddled by how Chris, the jazz/world music/alternative-indie rock loving music snob could possibly like the Pet Shop Boys.

The Boys caught my ear in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It wasn’t so much the music that engaged me at first, but the lyrics. If you paid attention, you could hear the social commentary about Thatcherism in songs like “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money”), and “Being Boring” perfectly encapsulated the overwhelming sense of loss in the age of AIDS. Then I fell for Tennant’s voice, which is both ironic and melancholic. Finally, Lowe’s layers of keyboard sounds and PSB’s driving, dancefloor-friendly beats grabbed me and never let go.

The concert matched my expectations: the music struck the right chords; the show was dynamic and visually striking; and it was a fun party. There were moments when I was a bit uncomfortable with the absence of a band – aside from Lowe’s keyboard playing and occasional electronic drumming, and a few trumpet blasts from backup singers/dancers, there wasn’t a lot of live music being played. Pre-programmed synths and drum machines figured prominently in the mix. But harping on that would be missing the point. The Pet Shop Boys are all about Tennant and Lowe, and the feeling of release they create with their evocative songs. By that measure, the long-awaited concert had all the elements I had hoped for.

Neil Tennant at The Picky Pet on West Georgia. I found a link to the photo on the PSB Twitter page, where this intriguing tweet went out two nights before the show: “Fascism alive and well in Vancouver. 2 id’s required to get in a club. Pathetic”

“It’s a Sin” at the Vancouver show:

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The End of In the Key of Charles

September 9, 2009

It’s over. The final show of In the Key of Charles, hosted by Gregory Charles, aired on CBC Radio last Sunday. I’m kind of sad about this.

I first heard the show about a year ago, when I was going on runs near the beach. After my early Sunday morning runs, I would hop in the car and listen to CBC Radio 2, where I heard something different between 10 am and noon. The playlist was diverse: from pop to classical to show tunes to rock. In between songs, a sweet-sounding man was whimsically talking about the music while also spontaneously breaking into song and playing piano – beautifully. Who is this guy?, I wondered.

It turned out to be Charles, who’s a star in Quebec. He’s known for being able to play and sing virtually any song that’s requested of him. The formula for In the Key of Charles was simple: Charles sat in his Montreal apartment with his producer Scott and technician Pierre, and devoted each week’s show to a theme: “right and wrong”, “pets”, “sleep”, “secrets”, etc. Songs were strategically chosen to fit the theme.

One week the theme was “thinking”, and Charles played a tune by Dido, who I had never paid any attention to before. I had always considered Dido a lightweight artist – someone you’d hear at the dentist’s office. Definitely not cool. But the song, “Don’t Think of Me”, got my attention. In fact I became semi-obsessed with it. I don’t know if the song grabbed me because of its merits or the fact that Charles played it and talked about the bitter lyrics. But the Dido incident exemplified why I became a regular listener of In the Key of Charles. He always conveyed a pure love for music, without a trace of snobbery. While he got schmaltzy at times in his song selection and in his own playing/singing, his openness to all music left an impression on me. Thanks to Charles, I’m going to try to be less of a judgmental music snob. I’ll let you know how that goes.

The theme of the last show was, appropriately, “The End”. The very last song was Chris de Burgh’s “Transmission Ends”. Ciao Gregory Charles – my Sundays won’t be the same without you.

Charles’ hit single “I Think of You” (“Don’t Think of Me” in reverse), which doesn’t exactly ease up on the schmaltz quotient, but I still like it:

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Dan Mangan at the Cultch

September 2, 2009

I caught one of the two sold-out concerts that Vancouver’s Dan Mangan performed at the renovated Cultch last weekend, and it was a glorious show.

Everything came together that night: Mangan’s well-honed confidence as an impactful performer; his ease and sense of humour when talking to the audience between songs; Mangan’s rapport with his strong band; the rare treat of hearing three horn players and a three-member string section expand the sonic palette; the added bonus of having Shayne Koyczan in the house to inject his spoken word mastery; being back in the beloved Cultch for one of the first concerts since it was massively renovated; and the euphoria of being at a sold-out show for a hometown boy who’s making good.

Seven months ago I hadn’t even heard of Mangan. Then a new friend talked glowingly about his music and eventually recommended that I go to the Cultch show. Only after buying tickets for the gig did I actually listen to his music, starting with Mangan’s Roboteering ep and then his debut album, Postcards and Daydreaming. I liked what I heard, especially on Roboteering. There’s a fine line between what Mangan does and what someone like David Gray does, and Mangan is on the right side of that singer/songwriter line. By right, I mean he avoids clich├ęs that are an occupational hazard of his genre, and he stays connected to an alternative DIY sensibility.

This is quite the time for Mangan: he’s deservedly getting rave reviews for his new album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, including one in the Province that ranked him at the level of Nick Drake! (Dan’s good, but not that good. Not yet anyway.) Plus there he was on the cover of the Georgia Straight. I imagine that receiving this much attention could make it challenging to remain grounded. Just listening to Mangan talk during the show – he’s so damn likable – makes me think the 26-year-old won’t go Kanye West (i.e. ego trip) any time soon.

My usual source for videos of gigs is out-of-town and missed the show (which she would have loved), but I found some decents vids that someone took:

Mangan’s “hit single”, “Robots”, which he somehow managed to F-up, forcing him to stop mid-song and start again. But the way he handled it was so endearing that no one cared:

“Tina’s Glorious Comeback”:

The very intense “Tragic Turn of Events/Move Pen Move”, featuring the performance poetry of Shayne Koyczan: