Archive for October, 2009

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2 Shows in 2 Nights: The Grizz & Chad V.

October 19, 2009

Random thoughts about last week’s Grizzly Bear show at the Vogue:

  • I was feeling lukewarm about this concert during the first few songs; it felt like the mystery in Grizzly Bear’s music had lost some of its allure. That didn’t last. The band kept doing amazing things: singing radiant harmonies, incorporating unique sounds (especially from the guitar of Daniel Rossen and the multiple instruments of Chris Taylor (bass, flute, bass clarinet and sax), and generally cranking up the sonic power. So before long I was back in love.
  • Speaking of sonic power, I think the key difference between the band’s show at the Commodore last May and this one is the latter’s bigger sound. I can easily picture Grizzly Bear delivering that big sound at Thunderbird Stadium someday, just like Radiohead has done twice. It will be interesting to see if the band makes that leap to being an A-list alternative band, and whether their music will change as a result. My guess is they’ll retain their integrity and originality.
  • I often feel old at shows, but I felt very old at the Vogue. It seemed like everyone was twentysomething. In fact I ran into a young woman I know who epitomizes that generation. She was with her boyfriend who looks like a total surfer dude. He complimented me on my Skulls Skates hoodie, but maybe he was secretly thinking, “Who does this old poseur fart think he is, wearing a Skates hoodie?” I hope I’m still going to loud alternative-indie shows when I’m a hearing aid-wearing octogenarian.

Thanks to J for capturing video, at the usual high quality, of Grizzly Bear:

Speaking of youth, the fresh-faced opening band – The Morning Benders – was a pleasant surprise. The Benders’ short but catchy songs and the musicality/stage presence of frontman Chris Chu won me over. I also loved the fact that two Asians are in the group (don’t ask me why – just check the name of this blog). Asian power!

The Morning Benders’ “Waiting For a War”:

I waffled about going to Chad VanGaalen’s concert, happening the night after the Grizz, but I plunked down my cash in the end. I’m glad I did. The Calgarian gave a solid, if not spectacular performance at the Rio Theatre. I love his high-pitched voice (shades of Neil Young), imaginative songwriting and offbeat character. VanGaalen and his band’s impromptu cover of Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam” also scored points with me.

There was a lot of talent at the Rio, just based on award nominations and collaborations with award nominees. VanGaalen was a Polaris Music Prize finalist. His keyboard/flautist/backup vocalist Julie Fader is in Great Lake Swimmers, another Polaris finalist. The quirky opener Castlemusic, aka Jennifer Castle from Toronto, has collaborated with F***ed Up, the band that won the Polaris last month and Elliott Brood, yet another finalist. If the music coming from the high-up Rio stage was any indication, the Canadian indie scene is in good hands.

Another vid from J – Chad and band:

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VIFF Music Docs

October 17, 2009

I choose films to watch at the Vancouver International Film Festival the same way I choose books to buy at a bookstore: I go straight to the music section! Call me one-dimensional (and yes, I know I am), but the only way I can deal with the wealth of fine cinema at VIFF is to just see music documentaries. Gone are the carefree days when I could see a gazillion movies at the festival. So if I have to prioritize, it may as well be with music docs, a genre I adore. Now that VIFF is over for another year, here’s a look back at three films I caught.

The Man Who Bottled Clouds

At the risk of sounding simplistic, one way I assess a documentary’s effectiveness is how much I learn from watching it. By that measure, The Man Who Bottled Clouds unequivocally succeeds. It tells the story of Humberto Teixeira, a Brazilian renaissance man who was a great composer, lawyer, politician and bon vivant. Teixeira and singer/accordionist Luis Gonzaga – both from Northeastern Brazil – did more than anyone to develop and popularize the influential baião style of Brazilian music. They wrote more than 400 songs, including the classic “Asa Branca”. I was engrossed with the film, which adroitly weaves together interviews and performances from the likes of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and David Byrne. You can still catch the flick, as one of the VIFF Repeats, on Oct. 20, 6:30 pm at the Vancity Theatre.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

I know next to nothing about classical music. But I do know that Glenn Gould was a genius on the piano. Most of my classical collection consists of his recordings. I’ve always found it soothing to listen to his amazing technique and lyricism. I’ve also been fascinated with Gould’s persona as as eccentric artist. The film thoroughly covers all of these aspects of his life. Some points the film effectively conveyed:

  • Gould played piano like a machine – his contrapuntal lines seemed impossible. But he was a machine with soul.
  • As a young man, he was handsome and charming. Scenes of a young Gould reminded me of the images of a dashing young Chet Baker in Let’s Get Lost. They didn’t look alike at all, but they both had a raw beauty.
  • Gould’s eccentricities got extreme. Not going to the hospital to see his dying mother, because of a fear of germs, was over-the-top.
  • He was way ahead of his time with his CBC radio documentaries, which were painstakingly constructed.
  • Gould’s death from a massive stroke at 50 was a tragic loss – there was a lot of profound music still to come from him.

Ashes of American Flags: Wilco Live

The other two films completely absorbed me with their rare archival footage and intriguing minutiae of their subjects. The Wilco documentary didn’t captivate me like that, but it was still satisfying as a live concert film. Shot at legendary American venues like the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and Tipitina’s in New Orleans, the film documents Wilco’s powerful chemistry. Ashes of American Flags provides insights about the musicality of the band members, just by zooming in on each of them, but it especially affirms guitarist Nels Cline’s virtuosity. As for frontman Jeff Tweedy, the too-short doc captures his essence as an unlikely, sharp-witted and vocally engaging alt rock star.

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A Gift from Aimee Mann

October 14, 2009

I’ve decided that there’s no in-between with Aimee Mann: generally speaking, people have either never heard of her or they’re obsessively into her music. I’m squarely in the latter camp. I have all of her albums and I’ve seen her perform live about five times. When I got the chance to interview her for the Vancouver Courier, I was incredibly nervous. More nervous than I was with pop star Bryan Adams, jazz star Diana Krall and Indian classical giant Ravi Shankar. Why? Because I admire her as an affecting singer/songwriter who has a refreshing outsider attitude when it comes to the music industry. So I didn’t want to stumble and ask a dumb question. (Thankfully, the interview went swimmingly.)

For us hardcore Aimee Mann followers, her concert at the Commodore last week was a gift. I’m describing it that way because it wasn’t a typical show, where the artist mainly does material from a recent release. That wasn’t going to be the case because Mann’s last album, @#%&*! Smilers, came out in mid-2008. Instead, Mann came up with an interesting approach: the first half featured songs she doesn’t typically perform live, from throughout her catalogue. Mann performed those tunes with just two keyboardists/multi-instrumentalists: Jebin Bruni and Jamie Edwards. In the second half they played nothing but requests, which audience members wrote down on little pieces of paper. Vancouver drummer Barry Mirochnick, who’s currently with Neko Case and has also played with Veda Hille, joined the musicians for these songs on a minimalist kit.

This was a dream scenario for me. I knew every single tune performed that night, and familiarity is comforting. It was also a treat to hear rarities like “Nightmare girl” and way-back gems like “Amateur” and even “Voices Carry”, which dates back to Mann’s ‘Til Tuesday period.

Then there were the keyboards scattered around the stage. Smilers featured Bruni and Edwards on keys and not a single electric guitar note, which was a departure for Mann because she always had strong axemen in her band. Mann is still in that keyboard space, so for me as a keyboard lover, it was wonderful to hear these proficient players create resonant textures. As for Mann’s voice, she started a bit rough but quickly got better as the night progressed. In between songs, she was at her engaging best, self-deprecating and funny, dropping F-bombs freely.

It would have been fun to hear a cover, but she declared at the beginning of the all-requests portion that they weren’t going to do “Free Bird” or “Taking Care of Business”, covers she did at her last two Commodore concerts. And she didn’t follow through on the repeated requests for Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”. The night was all about her timeless songs, her singular voice and the band’s musicianship, so nothing more was needed.

Mann, Bruni and Edwards doing “Save Me” – from the Magnolia soundtrack – at Seattle’s Moore Theatre, the night before the Vancouver gig:


Bonus links:

A review of Mann’s Commodore show, with some good pics, at Discover Vancouver

Photos of the show at Guttersnipe

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R.I.P. Mercedes

October 7, 2009

An icon of Latin American folk music – the great Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa – died Sunday. Thousands of people attended her funeral and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, declared three days of national mourning. In Canada, it would be like Leonard Cohen leaving us – that’s how enormous a loss this is for Argentina. As a leading figure in the Nueva Canción (new song) movement that combined folk and other styles with political protest, she was truly the voice of the people.

In 2002, I interviewed Sosa for the Vancouver Courier. It wasn’t a typical telephone interview. The usual procedure for “phoners” is the writer calls the subject directly (or vice versa) and conducts an interview. But Sosa only spoke Spanish so a translator was needed. Complicating matters was that fact that another journalist wanted to interview Sosa, and we both needed translation. So the promoter of Sosa’s concert at the Orpheum arranged for a group interview, with a translator present. It took place at a beautiful house in Point Grey. I wasn’t told whose house it was, but I spied a piece of mail that had the name of the person who lived there: a well-known CBC broadcaster.

The interview went well. I asked most of the questions, which Sosa answered thoughtfully and the translator translated thoroughly. Here’s an excerpt from my story on Sosa: “We’re huddled around a speaker phone that connects us to Sosa in her Buenos Aires apartment overlooking Avenida 9 de Julio, known as the widest avenue in the world. At one point Sosa answers a question by doing what she does best: sing. We collectively smile as the 66-year-old icon vocalizes with a clear and rich tone that resonates through the speaker.”

Sosa singing her signature song: “Gracias a la Vida”: