Category Archives: Concerts

Jeff Burrows Continues To Do 24 Hour Drum Marathons

Jeff Burrows

Jeff Burrows

Back in late-May Tea Party drummer Jeff Burrows pulled off his eleventh 24 hour drum marathon to support local charities in Windsor, Ontario.

Such an outlandish feat deserved some attention so I spoke to him about it, as well as his new drum tech-for-hire scheme, for Samaritanmag.

To read the story go here.

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Feist Makes Stellar Return at Star-Studded Toronto Show

Feist

Feist

LIVE: Feist
October 8, 2011
Glenn Gould Studios
Toronto, ON

Something strange has happened since Feist made us dance around with our iPods to The Reminder back in 2007.

And that strange thing is Florence and the Machine, Lykke Li, Lights, Jenn Grant, Dum Dum Girls, Warpaint, St. Vincent, Ohbijou, Rebekah Higgs, Bat For Lashes, My Brightest Diamond, Lavender Diamond, She & Him, Priscilla Ahn… The list goes on, but basically, in the time Leslie Feist has been out of the spotlight, her place in the musical hierarchy has more than ably been filled by a revolving cast of diverse, dynamic, world-class women who don’t resort to parading around in short shorts to peddle their art.

It would seem, then, that the position of Queen of Indie Rock has about as much job security as being a wife of Henry VIII.

That said, at an exclusive concert held Saturday (Oct. 8) at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio, Feist showed that with her new album, Metals, she maintains dominion over a loyal legion of followers.

The show — taped as part of the CBC’s 75th anniversary celebrations and set to air on CBC Radio 2 on Nov. 2 — wasn’t about royal courts so much as it was old-time radio variety programs — even if there were was a non-stop parade of guest musicians who came to swear fealty to the petite singer.

Biggest among these names was Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. They sang “You And I,” their duet from 2009’s Wilco (The Album), and their performance was one of the simpler renditions on a night that saw most Metals songs amped up significantly and many older Feist numbers rendered barely recognizable.

Feist and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste did a quick run-through of his band’s AIDS charity song “Service Bell” before he helped out on Metals track “Cicadas and Gulls.”

Country crooner Doug Paisley temporarily brought us to the Grand Ole Opry with his song “Don’t Make Me Wait,” and theoretically, Joel Gibb of the Hidden Cameras and Feist’s take on the traditional “The Wagoner’s Lad” should have done the same thing. Unfortunately, that one mostly just felt awkward.

Probably the most natural union was the one between Feist and former Constantines singer Bry Webb. Considering Feist’s longstanding ties to Webb, the Cons and the Cons’ old foundation-building label Three Gut Records, the pair’s takes on the Metals track “The Bad In Each Other” and the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton classic “Islands In the Stream” felt effortless, even if Feist seemed a bit intimidated with Parton’s parts.

For all the excitement of having a gaggle indie stars in the building, Feist was at her regal best when the men weren’t interfering.

She was accompanied, in various permutations, by a string section, keys, drums, the backup singing trio Mountain Man and Happiness Project/Broken Social Scene member Charles Spearin, who seemingly played every instrument known to man throughout the night. It was this setup that brought out the best in the Metals songs.

In recorded form, Metals often comes across as too soft and gauzy. There are seemingly random choral stabs and clompy percussion bits rising out of that murk, but you’re frequently left wishing for the return of the finger-snapping, shimmy-shaking Feist of old.

Live, though, these songs are transformed. The melancholy “Comfort Me,” which may turn out to be the secret gem of Metals, started slow before roaring to life, becoming a percussive beast filled with multiple people drumming and Feist and the Mountain Man trio stretching themselves vocally. The song exists almost completely outside of the known Feist musical template, and if you ignored the fact that the central figure on stage was a beloved Canadian songbird, you could have momentarily thought you had stumbled into an …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead show.

Songs like “Bittersweet Melodies,” a relatively innocuous piece on Metals, got made into something far more vital with the help of Mountain Man, and their accompaniment added greatly to the set. Then there were those drums — played by two, three, or even four people on any given song.

Let It Die breakout single “Mushaboom” and Metals tracks “Caught a Long Wind” and “The Bad In Each Other” all benefited from this newer, heavier, more primitive treatment. And in an age when a little extra percussion has become a common musical hallmark of Feist’s contemporaries (Lykke Li’s single drumstick dance-drumming, in particular, comes to mind), it felt as though she was using the skin-beating for sending a message, not following trends.

These were not drums for dancing so much as they were drums of warning — war drums. Feist may have been as personable and sweet as ever Saturday night, but there’s a darker streak to her music now. And that thumping, pounding, smashing racket her cohorts were making was telling us something: Leslie Feist has returned, and she won’t be giving up her crown so easily.

This review was originally published October 9, 2011 via AOL Spinner.

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The Rolling Stones Get Through Richards’ Tumble

The Rolling Stones' Licks tour.

The Rolling Stones’ Licks tour.

LIVE: The Rolling Stones
October 16, 2002
Air Canada Centre
Toronto, ON

The first time I ever encountered The Rolling Stones was at the home of one of my father’s biker drinking buddies. As a curious 10 year old, I’d rifle through the biker’s records, judging them almost solely on the look of the album covers. It’s when I got to The Stones’ Goat’s Head Soup that my impression of the band was forever calcified.

Musically, the album’s best moment is the melancholy ballad “Angie,” but what really struck me was the pull-out poster sleeve of actual goat’s head soup. I stared at that photo for a long time. It was kinda gross, but also compelling, dangerous and very, very evil. It was also the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

As I continued to learn more about The Stones and music in general, their mystique continued to grow. Maggie Trudeau. Heroin busts. Sympathy For The Devil. Brian Jones. Hell’s Angels. Altamont. Exile On Main Street. It all swirled together to create a vision of one of the most vital and nasty rock ‘n’ roll bands in history.

But that is history and this is 2002. Some 40 years after their inception, The Rolling Stones are a different band. The danger is now clouded in a thick fog of nostalgia and that rambling, rollicking rock band has morphed into an efficient, effective touring machine, a cash-hoovering monster trading in on waves of feel-good familiarity.

And therein lies the dilemma. I knew going into the Stones show at the Air Canada Centre that this wasn’t going to be the barroom romance of Love You Live or the vital near-punk of Got Live If You Want It. But I was certainly hoping for more than a slap-dash of the hits, count the money and prep-the-next-set-of-suckers run-through.

Things got off to a dubious start. With the exception of what appeared to be every aging stripper in the G.T.A., the crowd was well-heeled, well-lubricated, well-greyed and well-girthed. More disturbing, however, was Keith Richard’s dramatic tumble across the stage to kick-off set opener “Street Fighting Man.”

Watching any near senior citizen take a tumble is unsettling, but seeing Keith Richards do so to start a show is even worse. Still, considering the audience shared what was likely a knowing sympathy, there was little in the way of gawking, audible gasping or otherwise.

As the band went into “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” Richards still seemed off his game, which only served to reinforce how valuable Ron Wood is. As the Richards jester routine began to right itself, Woods held down the fort going into song three, “If You Can’t Rock Me.” Sublimely cool, through the course of the evening Wood’s solos and slidework would polish and refine Richards’ antics and Mick Jagger’s posturing.

The pairing of “Don’t Stop” and “Rocks Off” would introduce the multimedia portion of the show, with the first of many lip/tongue montages displayed on a huge screen backdrop. That was followed by a lurid short film featuring young, nubile and sexually ambiguous model types getting drunk and feeling each other up. Up until this point everything was rather perfunctory and a not just a little bit embarrassing.

Then came “Love In Vain.” Slow and dirty, this song was a breakthrough. Where up until then The Stones were aging hit-peddlers, here they were world-wizened blues-rock masters. “Let It Bleed” and “Monkey Man” continued to fuel this resurgence. By this point Jagger was in full frontman mode, strutting and cocky.

Richards came to life as well, playing particularly vibrantly on “Monkey Man.” The plodding audience clapalong in “Gimme Shelter” and Jagger’s fumbling faux sex-up with backup singer Lisa Fischer brought things back down again, but this wasn’t the lowlight of the evening. That was reserved for the Richards-sung double-shot of “Thru And Thru” and “Happy,” followed by “Start Me Up” and “Honky Tonk Woman.”

The fault with the Richards songs is obvious and my distaste for “Start Me Up” is a strictly a personal idiosyncrasy. But “Honky Tonk Woman” was a whole different set of weird. The band were incidental to what could be described as Stones anime porn flashing on the big screens, where a topless Betty Page-type lewdly rode a pierced tongue. That may pass for dangerous in the ‘burbs, but it was more just embarrassing.

Still, in what was slowly developing as the theme for the evening, a moment of bad was framed by a moment of sublime. In this case “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Once again returning to their roadhouse roots, this song, faithfully rendered and stretched out with Jagger harmonica and Wood guitar solos, recaptured the vitality that represents the best attributes of the Stones.

“Satisfaction” was a crowd-pleaser, but the true highlights came when the Stones shifted operations to an “intimate” stage set up in the middle of the floor. Packed together and shorn of the high walls and barricades that quash intimacy, the band tore into “Mannish Boy,” “Neighbours” and a singalong “Brown Sugar.” This was clearly the Stones at their most fiery. Charismatic, swaggering and mere inches from their audience, the band ended their regular set in dramatic fashion.

By the time band returned to the main stage for the encores of “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” many of the evening’s earlier transgressions had been forgotten. Having taken it all in, I realized you can’t go back. Heck, I wasn’t even there in the first place — I was still a baby when many of the Stones most dangerous moments actually took place. But for a few minutes I was transported back to some bygone era. There I was in a dingy, smokey club, strange goats head and tongue images were all around. Brian Jones was there, too. “The Last Time” and “Bitch” were also miraculously playing at the same time. In this haze I got to witness Mick, Keith and the boys at their most rocking and most world-beating.

And because of that I can understand everyone who woo’d to “Brown Sugar” and sung their hearts out to “Satisfaction.” And, frankly, that’s enough.

This review was originally published October 17, 2002 via Chart Communications.

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Samaritan News 10 Pack: Unity Fest, Planned Parenthood Music, Alessia Cara, More

Unity Charity

Unity Charity

Here’s a recent batch of news stories I wrote for the charity ‘n’ entertainment site Samaritanmag:

WATCH: Heineken Worlds Apart Campaign Brings Ideological Opposites Together For Beer

WATCH: All That Remains Recruits Benghazi Veteran for PTSD Awareness Video

Royal Family Use London Marathon to Support Mental Health Charities

Hip Hop-focused Unity Charity Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Björk, Mary J. Blige, Margaret Atwood, More Part of Massive 7-Inch Series For Planned Parenthood

Malala Yousafzai Wants Canadians to Support Education for Girls

Adele, Pearl Jam, Dolly Parton Cover Brandi Carlile To Support War Child

Former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to Speak at Toronto’s Spirit Of Hope

WATCH: Alessia Cara Sing and Hug at Sydney Children’s Hospital

You Could Meet Daniel Craig, Win an Aston Martin by Supporting Landmine Removal

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Iron Maiden’s Gamble Pays Off

Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden

LIVE: Iron Maiden
October 16, 2006
Air Canada Centre
Toronto, ON

For a legendary metal act like Iron Maiden it was a bold and brash gesture when, four songs in, singer Bruce Dickinson declared they were going to play their entire new album, A Matter Of Life And Death, from start to finish. That would mean 10 dense songs, a few of the more sprawling numbers licking just under 10 minutes in length, eating up more than 70 minutes of the concert’s running time.

Under normal circumstances, this could have been riot-fodder for the well-merchandised near-capacity banger crowd, but Dickinson played things deftly by declaring that Canadian fans propelled A Matter Of Life And Death to debut at #2 on the SoundScan album sales chart (their highest Canadian debut), so Canada was going to be rewarded with more Maiden shows in the future. Pavlovian, sure, but his speech came right at the point where the assembled metalheads were just starting to restlessly realize, “Hey, fuck, this ain’t ‘Powerslave.'” It turned the whole building in Maiden’s favour.

The early numbers — “Different World,” “These Colours Don’t Run” and the excellent “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” — were well-received, but it wasn’t until the post-speech blast of the galloping “The Longest Day” that Maiden’s hold was solidified. The front half of the general admission floor was a frothing mass and there were salutary fist-pumps arena-wide.

“Out Of The Shadows” followed. It was Dickinson’s best and most dynamic vocal performance of the night. Unfortunately, though, it was wasted on the album’s most tepid song.

From there, it was on to the constructed-for-Rock-In-Rio-singalong-songs, starting with “The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg” and followed by the reflective yet epic “For The Greater Good Of God.” The last four songs were heavy on the”Oi-oi-oi-oi-oi” and “Whoa-ooo-OO-oo” participatory theatre that Maiden songs never really had to trade in before, and it felt somewhat pandering.

Still, just when Maiden ran the risk of backsliding and losing the audience, they jumped headfirst into their back catalogue. First up was ’92’s “Fear Of The Dark,” followed closely by the set-closer and highlight of the night, “Iron Maiden.”

During the song, the stage morphed Transformers-style into a giant tank with the ubiquitous Eddie on top in military garb. Spinal Tap-ish though it was, there are few things cooler than seeing Maiden’s zombie mascot, 30 feet tall, at the helm of a Sherman.

This dovetailed into the evils-of-war-themed encore section of “2 Minutes To Midnight,” “The Evil That Men Do” and grand finale “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” The three songs were delivered with fire, sending the audience to a well-executed peak.

Walking through the hallways of the ACC afterwards, the building was still roaring. The crowd filing out were cheering, yelling, high-fiving and bellowing “Maiiiii-dennnn!” Proof that the band’s gambit, A Matter Of Life And Death, paid off.

This review was originally published October 18, 2006 via Chart Communications.

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7 Points Of Interest For CMW 2017 Veteran Attendees

She-Devils

She-Devils

Say you’re the kind of person who can remember a time when there were eight major record labels operating in Canada. Back then, there was no YouTube, or Soundcloud, or Bandcamp. There was no Napster, no streaming, and there was certainly no Twitter or Facebook.

When you wanted to learn about new music you had three choices: listen to the radio (but that was always a Pyrrhic victory because you had to listen to the radio), you could find out about new bands by reading what your favourite music writers in daily, weekly or monthly publications were recommending, or, you could chase down these new sounds the truest way — by trudging in and out of the clubs to check things out.

By doing this you’ve seen soooo many great bands. Some that never broke (Flashing Lights, Copyright, Deadly Snakes, Tangiers, Royal City) and some that, relatively at least, did (Broken Social Scene, The Dears, Constantines, Joel Plaskett).

You’ve been doing this sort of thing for 19 straight years now. And you’re tired. The thought of jostling with college kids with unearned beards in over-capacity clubs to see the “next big thing” doesn’t sound pleasant in any way.

And yet, the spirit remains willing.

So you brace yourself. It is, once again, Canadian Music Week. And once again all of the Canadian music industry will descend upon Toronto to polish up and show off their latest pet projects while a whole separate underclass of patronless dreamers will also arrive in the hopes of “networking” and “making some valuable connections”… but mostly by trying to push unwanted flyers and stickers on you.

It can seem all too much. But you know there are still great bands and great songs out there, so you mutter, “I’m getting too old for this shit” and once again step into the breach…

This time it’s different, though.

Because you are getting too old for this, you know that many of these “new projects we’re working on” are bullshit false flags. You know that party with seafood will smell like seafood and that’s enough for you to skip it. And you also know that navigating the website will, as always, be a Sisyphussian lesson on why organizations should never let musicians and their representatives self-curate their profiles on your web real estate.

Your plan is to simply say “fuck it,” to not be moved by the hype, to not have to cool hunt. You’re going to see what you know, what you like, and what’s not going to irritate the shit out of you.

I’ve identified seven ways in which you can fulfill this quest. Read them below:

54-40
Wednesday, April 19 @ Phoenix Concert Theatre as part of the INDIE Awards

54-40 have always been a bit taken for granted all these years because they’ve always been good and they’ve always been with us. But the CanRock we’ve all known and loved for so many years is dying. Rush have retired, it’s been made clear it’s impolite to speculate on The Hip’s future, but y’know, the ’70s and ’80s acts like April Wine, David Wilcox and Loverboy are lumbering into their twilight years, and all those ’90s acts who went gold on every record have officially exhausted all their reunions. Against this, we still have 54-40. They’re getting some sort of lifetime achievement award and they deserve it.

Charlotte Day Wilson
Wednesday, April 19 @ Mod Club
Thursday, April 20 @ Mod Club

There’s a whole generation of young adults who’ve never heard Sade’s “Smooth Operator” and who wouldn’t know a Massive Attack record if Banksy spray-painted one in their ears. To these people, Charlotte Day Wilson is their fast-emerging new queen. That’s not meant to be dismissive. Wilson’s voice is chillingly good and if there is a legit “next big thing” performing at CMW this year, she is it. Seeing Wilson is your best bet to score easy cred points this week.

The Silver Dollar

If you haven’t heard, the Silver Dollar is basically dead. But on the way out, mercurial concert promoter Dan Burke has booked a number of righteous RIP shows up until the end of the month to honour the place. You owe it to yourself to make a stop by this week and pay your respects. And when Dan tries to pretend you’re not on the guest list, or that there’s no more room for wristband holders and badges and it’s paying customers only, just pay your $10 and enjoy the experience. You’ll be happy you did when the new Silver Dollar ground floor retail space/resto-lounge mood-boarded by some Charles Khabouth design protege opens in 2021 and ruins everything.

Danko Jones
Wednesday, April 19 @ Velvet Underground

I’ve got a strong suspicion that large pockets of the “the industry” in Canada hate Danko Jones. And I’ve got an equally strong suspicion Danko feels the same way about them. But the band are still here, playing a showcase-style gig anyway. Officially endorsed by Lemmy from Motorhead and Duff McKagan from Guns n’ Roses, they’re big enough in Europe that they get to negotiate the font size of their name on festival posters. This may very well be an act of defiance-as-rock concert for all those haters, which makes it kinda exciting.

She-Devils
Thursday, April 20 @ Costume House (165 Geary Avenue)
Saturday, April 22 @ A Common Sort (free Record Store Day show)

Gal singer + “soundscape” producer duos are second only to “sounds like Drake” for things the music world doesn’t need any more of in 2017. Except for She-Devils, that is. This Montreal pair are mighty compelling in a they-could-have-been-on-4AD-back-in-the-day way. Instead, their first album is going to be on Secretly Canadian, which in its way is almost the same thing, and they’ll be among peers like SUUNS, Anohni, Jens Lekman and Yoko Ono. With their ’60s pop grooves and Velvet Underground world weariness, this may be the actualization of what Andy Warhol wanted in Nico. If your old bones are going to take a chance on something, this is it.

Worst Place To Score Seats

I’ve ranked a number of the key participating CMW venues on how unlikely it is you’ll be able to score a seat if you show up during non-peak, non-at capacity times. The lower the ranking, the lower your chances of avoiding crippling back spasms throughout the week:

15) Horseshoe Tavern
14) Lee’s Palace
13) Silver Dollar
12) Monarch Tavern
11) Cameron House
10) The Paddock
9) The Rivoli
8) Bovine Sex Club
7) Dakota Tavern
6) Mod Club
5) The Garrison
4) Adelaide Hall
3) Drake Underground
2) Velvet Underground
1) Great Hall

The Dandy Warhols and The Sadies
Friday, April 21 @ Lee’s Palace as part of the Dine Alone showcase

Finally, a bill you understand. A label you’ve heard of is putting on a stacked bill with bands you’ve actually heard of and it’s got a headliner whose one album you really liked and they were funny in that documentary and it’s a bit of an underplay for them. You just gotta figure out who you still know who can get you on the guest list…

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Two Chuck Berry Stories From Michael Cohl And Triumph

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry, the true king of rock ‘n’ roll died yesterday in St. Charles County, Missouri. He was 90 years old.

Though Berry stopped touring a few years ago, I always held out small hope that I would get to see him perform live. Clearly that will never happen now.

While Berry will be lauded for his music, almost as much will be made about his mercurial and sometimes controversial behaviours and personality.

What’s absolutely clear is that Berry was a bigger-than-life music personality who won’t soon be forgotten.

I went through some of my old interview transcripts and found a couple anecdotes about Berry.

The first is an outtake from an interview I did with super-promoter Michael Cohl for a story at Huffington Post Music Canada. When the conversation turned to some of the stranger music personalities he’d dealt with in his career, Cohl was very discreet. He did, however, provide this one Berry-related tale:

“I think I’ve dealt with most of them,” said Cohl, of the most idiosyncratic entertainers. “I think that Rodney Dangerfield story’s pretty eccentric. So’s Bob Marley’s. I mean, listen, we’ve dealt with Chuck Berry. He’s nerve-wracking. He wants to be paid for every little thing. He wants to be paid per smile in some cases, but at the end of the day he says, ‘Don’t you worry, it’s an 8 o o’clock show? I’ll be at the building at 7:30 and have my money ready.’ And doesn’t want anyone to pick him up… so in some ways he’s the simplest, but the simplest can also be the most nerve-wracking because you’re sitting there and it’s 7 o’clock and you go ‘I have no idea where this guy is.’ He’s not in his room. He’s not in the building. He says he’s going to be here at 7:30… I wonder. Inevitably, he shows up.

“Yeah, he’s extraordinary, let’s face it. He’ll make you crazy.”

The other good Berry story I uncovered came from Triumph bassist Mike Levine, who I spoke to when the band released their Live at Sweden Rock Festival CD/DVD a few years back. Levine apparently experienced the unique challenge that is being the local band backing Berry.

Levine explained why in this outtake from my interview with him:

“I got a good Chuck Berry story,” said Levine. “I can’t remember the name of the band, but it was in the early ’70s and we were pretty popular, playing high schools and colleges and stuff, and we get a call from Queen’s University and they say, ‘Can you back up for Chuck Berry?’ And he’s playing here, blah, blah, blah, you play a set and you’ll back Chuck up, so we said, ‘Oh that’ll be great.’

“So we played our set. We’re sitting in the dressing room. We still haven’t met Chuck. About 10 minutes before show time he arrives and he opens his guitar case and there were three things in it other than his guitar: airplane bottles of liquor, a wad of cash, and a gun. And he said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to be playing tonight.’

“We go, ‘What do you mean?’

“‘Well, the place is sold out and I told the promoter I want more money or I’m not going on.’ Which I found out later he’s very famous for doing.

“So we were, ‘Well, just in case we do play, what songs are we going to do?’ And he said, ‘Just follow me.’

“We go ‘OK’ and the promoter comes in and Chuck wrangled an extra $5,000 out of him or something. Insisted on being paid in cash before we got on. He got everything he wanted. We got onstage and he’d turn around and yell ‘Johnny B. Goode, E. Count it in.’ We played all the songs. It went really good. We had fun. And after it was done he said goodbye, packed up his stuff and left.”

Watch Chuck Berry perform “My Ding-A-Ling”

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