Archive for the ‘Alternative’ Category


Braving the River Rock for the Zombies

October 28, 2011

I’m a little behind in the blogging, despite my recently stated pledge to be more prolific (ie blog more than once a year). So here’s a catch-up item.

I’ve always resisted going to see shows at the River Rock Theatre. I cringe when I see the likes of Air Supply and Chicago in the River Rock’s weekly Georgia Straight ad. Although I’ve always said I would go if Merle Haggard showed up. (I’ve seen Johnny Cash and George Jones but not The Hag.)

Well, I finally caved when two sets of friends said they were going to see The Zombies at the River Rock. I didn’t know much about the band, aside from their great song “She’s Not There”, which the band I play in covers. So I bought a ticket. (Why are River Rock tickets so expensive? Another deterrent to going there.) I took the Canada Line directly to the Rock and walked by the depressing scene of mainly Asian people throwing their money away in the casino to get to the theatre.

The Zombies & The Strawbs on the River Rock Theatre Marquee

The Zombies at the River Rock Theatre

I’ll talk about both musical and non-musical aspects of the evening. Musically speaking, the Zombies were very good. I could see why the band has been so influential (many artists – from Elliott Smith to Neko Case to the Foo Fighters – have covered Zombies songs). They wrote great, ahead-of-their-time songs (like “Time of the Season” and “Care of Cell 44”) and still perform them with a lot of vigour.

The show was part of the Zombie’s 50th anniversary tour. Think about that for a second – that’s mind-boggling longevity (regardless of the long hiatus they had). Colin Blunstone is still a wondrous singer and Rod Argent is still the quintessential rock keyboardist. As a keyboardist myself, it was a thrill to hear Argent live. And Jim Rodford, longtime Kinks bassist, was also in the band, which was a bonus.

Check out Argent’s killing, multi-keyboard solo on “She’s Not There”:

And here’s the original version of “She’s Not There”, with beautiful women in arty poses:

I didn’t care for the Strawbs, who opened for the Zombies, mainly because I found lead singer Dave Cousins’ voice grating. They haven’t aged well like the Zombies.

Now for the non-musical report. The audience at the River Rock was pretty much as scary as I thought it would be. Many older men with receding hairlines (including myself) and pot bellies. (I’m not judging, I’m just sayin’.) Then there was the Man from Glad sitting in front of me. He tried very hard to pick up the woman seated two over from him. He talked her up, and she wasn’t resisting, talking as loudly as he was – in the middle of the concert! Glad Man eventually wormed his way over to the seat next to her and soon had his arm behind her seat. After the show, however, he walked away empty-handed. She’s not there, indeed.


I’m back!

September 23, 2011

It’s been more than a year since I’ve written something for this blog. The last piece I wrote, dated September 2, 2010, was a review of a Michael Bublé concert. Why the silence? I’ve been busy at work and with life in general. Whenever I thought about blogging, something told me it wasn’t an essential use of my time, so I wrote nothing.

But saying I was busy is just a lame excuse. I could have blogged if I really wanted to. It’s not like there was any shortage of topics. As always, I went to many concerts in the last year, and I could have reviewed any number of them. In case you’re wondering, since that Bublé show, I’ve seen the following artists:

The National, The Walkmen, Arcade Fire, Calexico, Broken Social Scene, Big Boi (the last time I had to accompany Miles to a concert – no more hip hop and metal for me), Sufjan Stevens, Gorillaz, N.E.R.D. (Pharrell Williams), Lila Downs, Concha Buika, Junip, Galaxie 500, Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, Grinderman (Rufus/Teddy and Grinderman, featuring Nick Cave, on the same night!), Leonard Cohen, Black Dub (Daniel Lanois), the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (doing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 and Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, including the Vancouver Bach Choir singing “Ode to Joy”), Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses, Owen Pallett, Donny McCaslin, Orrin Evans (McCaslin and Evans in NYC), Ernie Watts and the Capilano University “A” Band, Salif Keita, Robert Plant, Fleet Foxes,  the Pixies, Imaginary Cities, Tonbruket (Dan Berglund), Robert Glasper, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Trombone Shorty, Lucinda Williams, Ana Moura, The Bad Plus, Colin Stetson, Christian McBride & Inside Straight, Richard Galliano & Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Atomic, L. Subramaniam, Spirit of the West, Dan Mangan, Gillian Welch, Rosanne Cash, The Jayhawks, Solas, Kathryn Calder, Jenny Whiteley, James Cotton and numerous other artists at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Bon Iver (along with the Rosebuds in Raleigh, North Carolina), Beirut, the Decemberists, Okkervil River, Charles Bradley, Iron & Wine, Marketa Irglova (of the Swell Season), Devo, the Pointed Sticks, the Lewis Nash Quintet, Karkwa, and Aidan Knight.

Some photos I took:

L. Subramaniam at Summer Live:

L. Subramaniam

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at the Folk Fest:

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

Kathryn Calder at the Folk Fest:

Kathryn Calder

Okkervil River at Malkin Bowl:

Okkervil River

Devo at the Vogue:


And that doesn’t include the band I play in, OEQ, performing at Kits Neighbourhood House and the Kitsilano Showboat, and Miles performing with the TD High School Jazz Intensive band at David Lam Park and the UBC Senior Jazz Band at the Chan Centre.

But no, I didn’t write a word. Until now. Although simply posting a list of concerts doesn’t really count. That’s more bragging than blogging. (I thought it would be an interesting exercise to go through Google Calendar and make a list of all the concerts I went to in the last year. My conclusions: I go to a lot of “alternative” shows where most of the audience is half my age – will I still be doing this when I’m 64?; I have no idea whether my concert-going is slowing down or keeping pace with past years; I’m a lucky guy to be able to see so many shows; and no wonder my hearing is going.)

I’m still not going to write anything of substance about those concerts, most of which were wonderful. But this is my way of easing back into blogging. I was wrong to think that blogging isn’t a must-do for me; writing has been a big part of who I am since Grade 9 (when I had an epiphany, in English class, that I could write), so I NEED to do it. Stay tuned for some actual writing.



January 14, 2010

What’s with all the untimely deaths of influential musical artists in recent weeks? First Vic Chesnutt left us on Christmas Day, then Lhasa de Sela on New Year’s Day, and the latest just yesterday: Jay Reatard.

I don’t really know Chesnutt and Reatard’s music, but I’m a huge Lhasa admirer, so I was devastated to hear about her death from breast cancer at the age of 37. When I saw a tweet about it, I didn’t want to believe it. I had no idea she was battling the disease for 21 months.

I first heard her music in June 1997. I was deciding which artist to interview for the Vancouver Courier in advance of that summer’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and after hearing tracks from her debut album La Llorona, I knew she had to be the one. I was completely entranced with her acutely intense vocals in Spanish and the music that combined ranchera, klezmer and more in a style that couldn’t be categorized. Lhasa, a Montrealer with Mexican-American roots, was a joy to interview and turned out to be one of the hits of the folk fest.

I interviewed her again in 1998 and over the years caught probably all of her Vancouver shows. I can even remember the exact venues: the Vogue Theatre, Starfish Room, Richard’s on Richards and the Commodore in a dream double-bill with Calexico. That show, in 2004, was the last time I heard Lhasa perform live. She was a generous performer who upped the intensity even more on stage.

I’ll end with some quotes from the articles I wrote on Lhasa:

On why, at the time, she preferred singing in Spanish:

“Physically, the voice comes from a different place. It’s kind of more torn out of the entrails. It’s more profound in some way. Also, I think the whole kind of poetic aura of the language is very emotional, very evocative. That’s why it’s such a rich language to perform and sing in.”

On why audiences connect so strongly with her singing and stage presence:

After a long pause, she says it’s hard to answer the question without sounding arrogant. But then Lhasa offers an explanation for why she and her bandmates strike resonant chords. “I think there are a lot of entertainers out there. We’re not entertainers at all. For me it’s something more mysterious than that. I don’t know if there are a lot of people who completely give themselves, heart and soul, to music like we are constantly trying to do.”


The better late than never review of Patrick Watson’s fantastical and magical Vogue show

December 19, 2009

As usual, I’ve taken way too long to review Patrick Watson’s show at the Vogue, which happened more than a week ago. Starting a demanding job, which involves a long commute, isn’t conducive to blogging. But no apologies – it’s my blog, and I’ll write when I want to.

A friend was supposed to go to the gig but she missed it because of a business trip. I told her I would blog about it so she could get a taste of what went down, and she joked that I shouldn’t make it sound too good. Well, sorry my friend, but it was a breathtaking concert that I didn’t want to end.

The evening started with standing in line outside the Vogue, shivering in the cold. The wait was worth it because we scored perfect seats in the lower section of the theatre – not too far from the stage and not too close, which is important because people at the front will invariably stand (and they did).

The opener was Aidan Knight from Victoria, who went over well because of his endearing voice, pleasing guitar playing, and funny between-song gab/nervous energy. Too bad the Michael Cera look-alike talked too much. Less talk, more music would have been better, but I still enjoyed hearing him for the first time.

A video of Knight, not from the Vogue show, but one that shows his potential as a melancholic musician:

By the second song of Patrick Watson’s set, “Beijing”, I knew it was going to be an extraordinary concert. The song had so much going for it: Watson’s amazing vocals, his expressive piano style, the wondrous sounds of a string quartet – called “Mommies on the Run” (even though there was one guy) – and the whole band’s inspired playing (especially Robbie Kunster on drums and odd percussion). “Beijing” is arguably the best tune on Watson’s Wooden Arms album; it made an even bigger impact live. (Maybe strings are the key. When I think of concerts that really stood out for me the last few years – Sufjan Stevens, Antony & The Johnsons (twice) and Dan Mangan – they all had string sections that created beautiful textures.)

And it went on from there, one song after another where Watson and his band members created beguiling moods and never got predictable. I heard shades of Antony, Sufjan, Tom Waits and Radiohead. A Facebook friend said the music reminded her of Spiritualized. It went from alternative cabaret to purely melodic sounds to experimental electronica. At the core was Watson – musicality just oozes out of his pores. What was Pitchfork thinking when they gave Wooden Arms 3.3?

The encore was truly epic. Watson put on a fantastical contraption straight out of Dr. Seuss: a backpack with five, lit-up megaphones extending out from it. His voice was projected through the megaphone machine, and one musician also plugged in. Meanwhile the other instrumentalists, including Kunster playing a saw, went up to the balcony – their unamplified music wafted through the fading theatre. A magical end to a remarkable concert.


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:


Malajube photo essay

June 22, 2009

I went to the Festival d’été francophone de Vancouver for the first time, and this is what I enjoyed (in order):

  • Malajube – I’ve very enamoured with this Québécois alternative rock band. I have no idea what they’re singing about, as their lyrics are completely in French, but I just know they make a beautiful noise.
  • Karkwa – I thought this band would be quieter than Malajube, based on only having heard one tune by them, the delicate “Oublie Pas”. But it turned out that the song is an anomaly. Karkwa can be as noisy as Malajube, especially with two drummers. They make interesting music.
  • Eating & drinking: Poutine, merguez, Belgian waffles, Madeleines, and Granville Island beer. It was liberating to drink beer in the street (on 7th, between Granville and Fir, which was blocked off, street festival style).

This is what I didn’t enjoy:

  • The headliner Pierre Lapointe – He’s a huge star in Québec, who’s supposed to be the second coming of Serge Gainsbourg, but Lapointe came across as arrogant and overwrought. Apparently the arrogance is just an act, according to this piece in the Montreal Mirror, but musically he and his band laid it on way too thick.

Malajube’s Julien Mineau, with his gorgeous Gibson SG:

Malajube 1

Malajube 2

Malajube 3

Malajube 4

Malajube’s Mathieu Cournoyer – a beautiful rock ‘n roll creature:

Malajube 9

Malajube 6

Malajube 7

Malajube 8

That’s Julien’s brother Francis on drums (not pictured – keyboardist/vocalist Thomas Augustin):

Malajube 5

The roadie:

Malajube roadie

Future rockers, with their plastic guitars, at the foot of the stage:

Malajube boys


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?