Sunday, June 28, 2009

Footloose Knee Slide

This took place at my buddy Nate's wedding last weekend. I thought I would be doing the general public a disservice by not sharing it.

Thanks to Davie Walsh for sacrificing two perfectly good medial collateral ligaments all in the name of high comedy and dancefloor genius.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NXNE 2009 - Arts and Crafts Showcase - Night 2

As alluded to in a previous entry, I vowed to do my best to maintain a relative sense of sobriety for the second night of the Arts and Crafts Showcase at NxNE, 2009. This was in part due to my journalistic integrity and my desire to bring the dotcomrades nothing but the finest in completely uninformed and entirely biased observations, and in part due to a ridiculously debilitating hangover and the knowledge that I would need to be in relatively decent shape for the remainder of the weekend.

As it turned out, there's something to be said for mixing in a few bottles of water amongst the countless Stellas and White Lightnings, because not only am I currently able to recollect most of Thursday night's show, but I was actually able to get out of bed the following morning in order to make my 9 o'clock meeting.

Look at me, ma! All grows'd up!

Just as they did the night before, the good people at Arts and Crafts were kind enough to grant me access on the loosely veiled quasi-truth that this particular forum actually merits some kind of media credential... (or, more accurately, my buddy Browner vouches for me).

In any event, I arrived promptly at 8 o'clock to catch the entirety of the Zeus set. I have to tell you, I was totally digging the Zeus vibe. Their tunes are full of Beatles-esque melodies, and they have some of the most fantastic moustaches you will ever come across. What's more, they did a stellar cover of the Genesis "classic" That's All. Beginning in July, they'll be doing a 5-night residency (every Wednesday night) at the world famous Dakota Tavern. I, for one, will be checking them out on Canada Day, as they will be sharing their set with The Bahamas (the one band it killed me to miss this weekend, particularly in light of the fact that they ended their set with a cover of Springsteen's Atlantic City).

Timber Timbre took the stage at 9 o'clock, with lead singer Taylor Kirk sitting on the floor. He was joined on stage by a dude on barritone sax, and someone else sitting off to the side playing a variety of sound-making devices which I couldn't name if my life depended on it. I'll admit that I've had the Timber Timbre album in my possession for about 2 months, and it took me a solid 4 or 5 listens before I really started to get into it. Timber Timbre's sound is almost impossible to describe; imagine a darker sounding and more lyrically-sparse Nebraska crossed with a Canadianized (ie, nature sounds) Waitsian junkyard orchestra... Needless to say, I was intrigued by how this might all play out on stage.

I was utterly blown away.

When the set began, I was standing near the back, drinking beer and talking with a bunch of people. But song by song, I found myself moving closer and closer to the stage. They were literally drawing me in with each haunting, hypnotic melody. This is the kind of music that gets into you and never leaves. It's the kind of music that will in all likelihood appear on a Quentin Tarrantino soundtrack one day, leaving audiences wondering exactly what the fuck they're listening to, only to be unable to get what they've heard out of their heads days down the road.

In the brilliant Lay Down In The Tall Grass, Kirk speaks of a "late basement seance that brought us to tears..." That is essentially what this performance was.

It was also the highlight of my NXNE.

You couldn't ask for a more divergent act to follow Timber Timbre than Still Life Still. As the lyrics from one of their opening tracks suggested ("I don't mind your blood on my dick / If you don't mind my cum on your tits"), they were bringing a different vibe to the table, detonating with a blast of exuberent, youthful energy.

Which is precisely what you might expect from a band on the precipice of exploding in a way they probably can't even fathom.

I'm serious: there is nothing that this band could do that would surprise me at this point. They could wind up being bigger than Broken Social Scene, or they could get in a fistfight onstage at their next gig and vow never to play together again. And the drummer (Aaron Romaniuk) is perhaps the biggest wildcard of all. My buddy Browner relates a great story about meeting the band for the first time. Like myself, Browner had partied with the guys far before he ever saw them onstage. But when he finally did catch them live, his first reaction was... "Wait... Aaron's the drummer? I could have sworn he was the lead singer. That guy has ROCK STAR written all over him."

I wouldn't put anything past him at this point. He'll probably end up dating a supermodel. He could wind up starring in Hollywood action films like a poor man's Duane Johnson. And there's about a 20% chance that he'll be found dead in some swimming pool after a particularly raucous party one Thursday night. The sky's the limit.

Their set was off the charts. Think: Handsome Furs meet a more up-tempo Phoenix (which I didn't even know was on the A&C label until about 3 minutes ago), with about 100 times the energy. They've got a couple of babyfaced singers that will undoubtedly make all the little girl's souls grow weak, and perhaps best of all, they are all genuinely good guys... And they certainly know how to party like the Rock Stars they seemed destined to become.

I won't lie to you: I was upstairs in the MIP area (Moderately Important People - as discussed previously, any place that grants me access cannot realistically be described as being reserved for "Very" important anything) for The Most Serene Republic set, and didn't catch much of it at all. The one highlight I can tell you about from this particular hour was that there was a fledgling journalist hanging around and asking me a bunch of intriguing questions ("How did you end up here?" "Where do you get your inspiration from?". Considering that I knew about 4 people upstairs, I spent a fair amount of time speaking to this girl... And then she casually asked: "...Sooooo... What band did you say you were in again?" I nearly spit my drink on her, I was laughing so hard. I should have probably lied and made up some hugely offensive band name (Buster Hyman and The Penetrators?), but I had to ruin her interview and tell her that I was there merely as a spectator.

Not surprisingly, she abandoned me to speak with someone more important shortly thereafter.

We decided to stay upstairs for The Stills set, but made a point of finding a fantastic sight line for their show. It should be noted that I'd abandoned the waters by this point, and that the bartender from the night before was more than willing to fulfill our orders for White Lightnings without batting a lash.

The Stills are consumate professionals, and their show reflected this. Flawless musicianship, great stage presence, and a deep catalogue of great tracks of which you'd probably be surprised by how many you found yourself singing along to. Lola is a great track. Still in Love is solid. And Being Here is probably in the conversation for the best pop song to come out over the course of the past 365 days, the live version of which, on this night, literally gave me goosebumps all over my body. It was sensational. They also played Everything I Build, which apparently is a big deal because until this night, they'd never attempted it live before.

In all, it was a ridiculously phenomenal night of new music, capping off a ridiculously extraordinary two-night showcase. The people at Arts & Crafts should be absolutely beside themselves with swagger for the display of talent they unveiled on these two nights, and they should be commended for their vision and foresight, and for believing in the kinds of bands that might not otherwise get the chance to strut their stuff.

And despite the fact that our collective livers took an absolute shellacking over the course of the 4-day weekend, I, for one, cannot wait to do it all again next year.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Diversion

A little something to help you nurse 2-nights-worth of NXNE's binge drinking hangover. As always, here is some of the best reading I've come across over the past little while. And if you think I'm doing any more than giving the token links at 2:30 in the morning after watching 5 bands-worth on a Thursday night, you're out of your mind.

A&C not just BSS
By Benjamin Boles

Most of the reason that I'm currently in the state I'm in.

The Power Game
By Wright Thompson

Ballin' with the Barack. I, for one, could not be more thrilled with the fact that basketball is at long last replacing golf as the go-to game in the world of high-powered politicians and professionals.

Show or Tell
By Louis Menand

A history of Creative Writing programs. Can the art form be taught? Let's explore the subject, shall we?

By the way, if you were planning on hitting up NXNE in Toronto this weekend, could not possibly recommend any stronger that you check out The Bahamas at Supermarket at 10:00 pm Friday night. They are ridiculously good.

The YouTube clip of the week needs to be clicked HERE in order to be viewed. It is Springsteen's Walk Like A Man, performed live at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA, in May of 1988.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

NXNE 2009 - Arts and Crafts Showcase - Night 1

From The National Post:

Celebration hung thick in the air last night at Arts & Craft records first night of North by Northeast. When Leslie Feist popped out to play with Broken Social Scene it felt very much like we were watching the very best band in the world. That most of the group had been onstage already -- the Happiness Project, Apostle of Hustle and Jason Collett had already played sets -- gave the whole thing a reunion-type raise your glass vibe. It was especially fun watching it with the kids in Still Life Still, Arts & Crafts newest signees, who threw down the Jaigermeister like Motley Crue...

Read More HERE

Ummm... Apparently Post reporter Ben Kaplan was slightly more coherent than I was last night, so you'd be better served reading his revue of the show than anything I'd be able to tell you at this point. Because it's 6:30 pm, and I'm still savagely hungover.
If nothing else, that's an indication of the type of party it was.

Despite the boozy haze that is currently serving in the place of memory from last night, what I can tell you is this: The guys at Arts and Crafts put on an absolutely stellar showcase at The Courthouse.

My buddy Browner is kind of a big deal in the record industry, so he was able to get me on the guest list for this exclusive gig. I'm telling you, you know you're catching an impressive NXNE lineup when Jason Collett is on in the 8 o'clock slot. I have been digging Collett's straight ahead rock and roll for quite some time, and his new material did not disappoint. His set was phenomenal, as always.

The Years / Happiness Project set was totally cool. For those unfamiliar with The Happiness Project, Charles Spearin interviewed some of his neighbours about the topic of, you guessed it: happiness. He then set their words to music. The result is something magical, and to see it live was part beautiful, part touching, and entirely impressive.

It was at about this point that things began to get a little fuzzy for me. Browner and I were throwing back the beverages like it was nobody's business, and when we ventured upstairs into the quasi-VIP area (I say "quasi-VIP" because obviously any area that grants me access can't be solely reserved for very important people. I'm thinking that "Moderately Important" would be a more appropriate description), things escalated rapidly. The fact that we were amongst nothing but record executives and rock stars really only added to the binge drinking festivities. I'm pretty sure Feist was hitting on me, but she probably doesn't remember. I generally have that effect on award-winning female indie rock artists.

The Apostle of Hustle set was out of this world, but the truth is, I was way too drunk to really appreciate it. They have the kind of latin-rock sound that I totally dig, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again at a time when I'm not expending so much energy simply trying to see straight.

By the time Broken Social Scene took the stage, I; like many others in attendance; was having a hard time standing up. 7/4 Shoreline is probably one of the 10 greatest Canadian rock songs ever recorded, and it absolutely blew the roof off the place. The new material absolutely kicked ass, the horn section was utterly destroying, and if I had been capable of motor function, I would have been shaking my money maker into the small hours of tomorrow... But I couldn't give you a song title if my life depended on it. Maybe these will help:

In all, it was an unbelievable show. I hope the rest of the world is ready for what hits them when the new BSS record emerges.

The second part of the showcase goes down tonight, with Zeus, The Most Serene Republic, Timber Timbre (their new album is out of this world), and Still Life Still. I have to say, I have seen the way the guys from Still Life Still party on a number of occassions, and I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to see them on stage. Oh yeah, and there is also an unannounced special guest slotted in for the midnight set.

Looking forward to a repeat performance tonight. Now, if I can only manage to mix in some bottles of water with the countless bottles of beer I will invariably be tossing back, I might actually be able to provide some semblance of a coherent review for you tomorrow...

Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Avoid Stop-overs at Simon Bolivar Airport, Caracas, Venezuela

I know someone who recently spent some time in a nameless South American country. This friend of mine shall also remain nameless, because most of the people he works with were unaware of his working abroad, meaning that he's basically had to keep it hush-hush. In any event, he wanted me to pass along the following Public Service Announcement to the dotcomrades:

Stay away from Simon Bolivar International Airport... Like... For real.

After landing safely in Caracas, Venezuela, this friend of mine had an 8-hour layover between the hours of 5pm and 1am. He figured he'd just kill the time by finding a good cup of coffee, maybe some internet access, and putting a dent in the current memoir he's currently consumed by (Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg's All Over But The Shoutin). But alas, it simply was not meant to be.

For beginners, this friend of mine had to wait in an immigration line that lasted for 80 minutes, and by the time he got to the customs inspector; just as it always seems to happen in the movies; he was told that he was in the wrong line.

I have it on pretty good authority that he wanted to kill himself.

From there, he made his way down to Air Canada's ticket desk so that he could acquire his boarding pass. The only problem is, Air Canada doesn't have a ticket desk, or any visible form of representation to speak of, at Simon Bolivar. Instead, this friend of mine was told to wait at Gate 15 for 6 hours, and that a boarding pass would be given to him there at some point.

It was shortly thereafter that this friend of mine began walking the halls of the terminal; afterall, he had some time to kill. After two trips up and down the dark and lonely halls, he sent the following text message to a select group of friends and family members:

No list of "The World's Most Depressing Places" would be complete without including the airport in Caracas, Venezuela.

In an attempt to kill time, this friend decided to sample some of the local cuisine, but the best available option in the terminal was a Burger King. Adding further insult to injury was the apparent fact that Simon Bolivar International is the only airport in the world that does not accept American money, meaning that one is left with the option of exchanging their remaining currency into Bolivares... The subsequent exchange rate and gouging techniques ensured that this particular friend of mine paid $15 USD for a Whopper combo...

It was finally time to sit down with that much anticipated cup of coffee, but just as this friend of mine was ordering, an airport security official walked up to him and said: "Excuse me, but are you Mr. _______?"

Now, I am no expert on the ways in which airport security officials conduct their daily affairs, but I'm pretty sure that when one of them approaches you in line at a coffee shop and asks for you by name, it is never a good thing.

This proved to be the case in this instance as well.

Apparently, this friend of mine was told, there had been a problem with his luggage, and he needed to accompany the security official.

(It should be noted that this friend of mine speaks only a token amount of Spanish, and that the security official spoke even less English, making for more than a few awkward pauses)

As it turned out, the lack of an Air Canada office at this particular airport also meant that there was a lack of Air Canada personel in order to transfer the luggage from vessel to vessel, meaning that this friend of mine's luggage had effectively been going around on the luggage carriage for the past 3 hours, despite the fact that, since this friend of mine had been turned away from customs, he wasn't even allowed into the baggage claim area. Good times.

He had to exit through security again (remove all items, put them through the metal detectors), claim his backpack from someone at LAN, and then pass through the same security he'd gone through less than 5 minutes ago (remove all items, pass through metal detectors). The good news was, all of his possessions were now in one place. The bad news was, he now had to walk around the most depressing place on the planet with all of his possessions.

Also, Game 5 of the NBA Finals was taking place at that very moment. What do you think the chances were of finding that particular programming on one of the TVs in the terminal's only bar? Wait, it probably wouldn't have mattered, because everything in the airport closes at 10pm. So make sure you load up on $15 Whoppers before 10, and be sure that when you convert your money into Bolivares that you acquire some coins, because the vending machines do not accept anything larger than 1 Bolivar coins... And if you think that just because the Duty Free Shop has 8 cash registers that they'll be able to break a 10 Bolivar note for you, you're kidding yourself.

When the Air Canada "employees" (airport cleaning staff wearing suspect looking AC pins) eventually showed up to give this friend of mine in and to give him his boarding pass, they did so at a makeshift podium in the middle of the terminal hallway. I suspect this friend of mine didn't feel all that confident handing over his passport, and probably questioned the fact that the Air Canada "employee" put a yellow sticker with his seat number on the back of his passport as a means of assigning a seat... Also, all of the employees were wearing various versions of gas masks, because apparently most Canadians are currently carrying the Ebola virus.

This friend of mine wanted everyone to know that he got home safe and sound despite the hiccups at the airport, and despite the fact that he had the middle seat on the red eye next to a 320 pound man which, as you might expect, resulted in precisely 0 minutes of sleep.

Luckily however, this particular friend enjoyed an amazing two weeks abroad which included, among other things: drinking copious amounts of Cusquena in quite possibly the only bar in South America that was showing Game 7 of the Wings-Pens series; getting dominated by a girl by 38 points in a game of Hoop Fever; finding a black market vendor to sell him the Back to the Future trilogy on DVD for $3; experiencing a power outtage on a Friday night in a bar which, as soon as the lights went out, officially declared a state of "CERVEZA GRATIS!!!"; and realizing that he'll probably be spending a hell of a lot more time down there in the future.

The next time, however, my friend has assured me that the trip will not include a layover at Simon Bolivar.