Archive for March, 2010

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My Olympics Soundtrack: Part 2

March 24, 2010

At one point during Martha Wainwright’s show at the Commodore last week the songstress abruptly stopped mid-song. She called out two men in the audience who were on the verge of pummeling each other over some sort of disagreement. This was happening about four feet from where I stood. Wainwright asked if they were having an “alter-fucking-cation” in the middle of her song. She told them to cease and desist and reminded them it was a “folk concert”. Not long after security swooped in and moved them out, she sang her hummable hit “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole”. How appropriate.

The scene illustrated why I admire Wainwright: she’s feisty and does what she feels like. Don’t get me wrong – the colorful language is only one side to her. Wainwright sang beautifully throughout her solo show at the Commodore, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. The Cultural Olympiad show was Wainwright’s very first concert since the death of her mother – the great Kate McGarrigle – in January. But aside from searching for the right chords on one song, there was no hesitancy in her delivery; she sounded as committed to her art as ever.

Here’s Wainwright in London, back in January (a week before her mother died), doing a classic song from Edith Piaf’s repertoire, “L’Accordioniste”. Wainwright didn’t do the tune at the Commodore, but she’ll be at our jazz festival June 26 with her Piaf project, featuring lesser-known songs by the French icon. That will be a must-see concert.

The next night I went to one of the last Cultural Olympiad shows: pianist Hilario Durán’s Latin Jazz Band at Performance Works. Weeks ago when I saw who would be in the big band – a mix of players based in Toronto, Vancouver, Cuba and elsewhere – I knew it would be a stellar show. Aside from Durán, who exemplifies the technique and artistry of top musicians from Cuba, the group included flutist/soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett. I’ve heard Jane play live and interviewed her many times, so I’m very familiar with her consistently high musicianship and passion for Cuban music. Then there’s tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer, who is always a treat to hear. But perhaps the biggest draw was Changuito, a legendary Cuban percussionist who was a member of Los Van Van.

They all played with fiery intensity on the challenging arrangements. Other standouts were trumpeters Alexander Brown and Vancouver’s Miguelito Valdes – who both effortlessly hit the high notes – and suave singer Luis Mario Ochoa. I brought young Miles, who somehow started nodding off during the first set despite the supercharged music. But he stayed awake long enough to appreciate what was going down. I’m especially glad that Miles the drummer got to hear the 62-year-old Changuito display his timbales mastery.

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My Olympics Soundtrack

March 1, 2010

I’m suffering from POD: Post Olympic Depression. I got addicted to the 2010 Winter Olympics, so there’s an empty feeling now that the Games are over. It’s also in my nature to regret, which in this case means wishing I had done more during the Olympics, such as hearing more music that was programmed as part of the spectacle.

I had big plans for all of the music I wanted to catch at the various sites. I ended up going to very few concerts, partially because I was chained to the armchair, watching the athletes. But I did go to some things, had a big disappointment with one missed show, and got some musical satisfaction from – of all things – ice dancing.

The first performance I went to was on the night before the Olympics began: singer/pianist Gregory Charles at the Place de la francophonie on Granville Island. It was surprising to see a relatively low turnout for Charles, who’s a huge star in Québec. But he’s not that well-known here, and rain – which created a massive puddle in front of the stage – probably scared people off. I have somewhat of a man crush on Charles, which I revealed in a blog post about his radio show, so I’m glad I ignored the weather and went. Charles did what he’s known for in Québec – singing and playing like a human jukebox, segueing from one song to another. His set consisted almost entirely of French songs, with snippets of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Hotel California”, “Hava Nagila” and other non-French tunes thrown in. While that may sound corny, and maybe it was at times, I still enjoyed it. Charles did songs that immediately resonated with the Québécois crowd, and even though I didn’t know any of the tunes, it was fun to be part of it.

The show I was really looking forward to was Wilco at LiveCity Yaletown. By the time we arrived to the free concert, there was an enormous lineup that snaked its way almost into False Creek. So we didn’t get in, which was a crushing blow. But my disappointment waned in comparison to how Miles felt three nights later at the same venue. He learned from the Wilco debacle and showed up early for Alexisonfire, which allowed him to be five rows from the stage. Good thing he wasn’t any closer, as that was the night the barricade broke. Miles ended up on the ground, with people on top of him, but thankfully emerged uninjured. He heard about 30 seconds of Alexisonfire.

The next night I went back to Place de la francophonie and heard Karkwa, another group from Québec I like. Karkwa played a solid set of moody alternative rock. I got worried when they started to sound too Coldplay-like, but overall, they crafted an engaging sound.

Karkwa at Place de la francophonie:

Karkwa 2

Karkwa

After going to the Slovakia-Norway men’s hockey game, I rushed over to the QE Theatre for the Hal Willner-produced Neil Young tribute concert that was part of the Cultural Olympiad. It’s interesting how divided reaction to the show was: some people I talked to loved it; another friend called me specifically to rant about how bad it was. For the most part, I thought it was a superb show. It was obviously a thrill to hear Lou Reed and Elvis Costello. I had no idea that Charles Mingus had a son named Eric who’s a powerful singer/poet/bassist – his participation in the show was a highlight. Richard Thompson’s son Teddy was also memorable. As for the low points, Vashti Bunyan is a critically acclaimed singer, but her voice was off. Above all, the concert affirmed for me the brilliance of Neil Young’s songwriting.

Finally, like many other people, I was struck by the beauty of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s ice dancing. Aside from their poetic skating, they won me over in their Gold Medal-winning free dance with their choice of music: Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Specifically, it was the fourth movement from the symphony, the Adagietto. I know very little about classical music, but this is my favourite classical piece. I’ve been to about four Vancouver Symphony concerts, and two times I went just to hear this movement. I love how the Adagietto is excruciatingly slow, but it has this amazing momentum. So it was great to hear it during Virtue & Moir’s pivotal skate. That piece, and not the annoying and grammatically incorrect “I Believe”, is the music that I’ll remember from our Olympics.

Virtue & Moir, skating to Mahler’s 5th at the 2010 Canadian Figure Skating Championships back in January: