Category Archives: Music

A Tribe Called Red’s Bear Witness On The Expanding Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called Red's Bear Witness

A Tribe Called Red’s Bear Witness

Genre and culture expanding electronic act A Tribe Called Red have been hard at work converting their We Are The Halluci Nation album into an actual nation of a sort.

If not a “nation” in the traditional geo-political sense, it’s certainly taking shape in the art and music world.

I spoke to band member Bear Witness about this evolution in advance of the X Avant festival this fall.

To read the interview head over to Samaritanmag by clicking here.

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Samaritan News 10 Pack: Cold Manitoba, Drake, More

Cold Manitoba

Cold Manitoba

I continue to contribute to the charitably-minded entertainment site Samaritanmag.

Here are some pieces I contributed in the fall:

Midnight Shine’s New Video Tackles Suicide, Depression Crisis In Far North

Donating To Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Campaign Helps Homeless Veterans

Drake Posts Heartfelt Message for Make-A-Wish Pal Who Died

Halloween Alley Retail Chain Running Donate-A-Costume Program

Walkin’ & Rollin’ Turn Childrens’ Wheelchairs Into Amazing Halloween Costumes

Pittsburgh Tree Of Life GoFundMe Has Raised $566k For Shooting Victims

Blue Rodeo, Sheepdogs, Deep Dark Woods Members Team Up For Cold Manitoba Project Inspired By Gord Downie

Willie Nelson Using New Song To Encourage Voting Against Ted Cruz, Supporting Texas Refugee Organization

Gord Downie Tribute Concerts To Raise Funds For His Charity One Year After His Death

Avril Lavigne’s First Song In Five Years Kicks Off Campaign To Support Lyme Disease Sufferers

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Polaris Podcast EP 21 Explores Bubbling Under Acts

Polaris Podcast EP7 was live from Ottawa.

We used this episode to highlight some of our favourite albums which didn’t make the 2018 Long List.

These included Woolworm’s Deserve To Die, Laura Sauvage’s The Beautiful, Souljazz Orchestra’s Under Burning Skies and L CON’s Insecurities in Being.

This and other Polaris Podcast episodes can be found on iTunes, Google Play or Spotify.

Or, to make it easy, you can listen to it right here:

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10 Best Before They Die Concerts Of 2018: Neko Case Is #1

Suicidal Tendencies live in Toronto.

Suicidal Tendencies live in Toronto.

Those closest to me know I’ve been on a years long quest to see live performances from a meticulously curated list of musical legends and personal favourites “before they die.”

Said list, which has a 100 active acts on it at all times and is prioritized based on 1) how much I love an act, 2) how soon I think they’re going to die, and 3) how rarely they tour, has guided me on numerous adventures and (mis)adventures over the years. Mostly, though, it has allowed me to witness a lot of music greats doing musically great things.

For the first time ever, I’ve compiled my 10 best Before They Dies of the year. Here they are:

10) Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra @ Scotiabank Arena, August 18, 2018 (#52 on list)

Lynne isn’t exactly a dynamic frontman, but the band was excellent, the stage and light show was a trip and the music was undeniable, even though the setlist was surprisingly front-loaded. I had an alternating mix of “Showdown” and “Evil Woman” in my head for weeks after this. Always a good sign.

9) The Horrors @ Horseshoe Tavern, June 19, 2018 (#76 on the list)

One of the key things I’ve learned about The List over the years is that when an act from overseas is in town, you do your damnedest to make sure you go see them. Technically, there wasn’t all that much to “see” at The Horrors’ show — they’re mostly a bunch of Edward Scissorhand silhouettes swaying in low light obscured by fog machine smoke — but that made what was heard all the better. Live, there’s added nuance to the band’s lysergic goth rock, revealing itself in a bold synth line here, a guitar squelch there and in a vibe that makes you feel you’re experiencing masters of their craft.

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The Horrors!

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8) Fleetwood Mac @ Scotiabank Arena, November 5, 2018 (unrated)

I didn’t know I needed the Mac in my life. This, because as a Stevie Nicks devotee who had already seen Nicks solo and witnessed her sing “Rhiannon” I naively thought I had already experienced the best of the Mac. I was wrong. The best of the Mac might be when the band decided to reclaim their blues roots and perform the Peter Green-written “Black Magic Woman” with Nicks in full, glorious witch-rock mode. It’s an amazingly macabre look that I didn’t know Fleetwood Mac had in them and I’m completely turned around on them because of it.

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The Fleetwood party and dance band.

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7) Nick Cave @ Scotiabank Arena, October 28, 2018 (#93 on the list)

I get the Nick Cave devotion now. I mean, as a concept I’ve always thought Cave was cool, but his records never moved me all that deeply and the film he wrote (The Proposition) had probably affected me more than any song he’d ever sung. Seeing Cave live, though, is a far different experience. It’s like a Springsteen rock ‘n’ roll communion, except for sort of people who own complete Leonard Cohen poetry collections. Live, Cave’s an intuitive, showy, sleazy, Vegas-y, hearty and genuine showman who’s personal connection to his audience is amazing to behold. Also, the bold noise The Bad Seeds make feels like they’re subverting the whole idea of “arena” rock, which is delicious in its way.

6) Destroyer @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, January 22, 2018 (#103 on the list)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show, but I was very pleasantly surprised by what it was — an eight-piece jazz/prog/lounge art freakout that featured Dan Bejar flanked by a saxophonist and trumpeter who took turns adding their own wig outs throughout the set. The set list was mainly the new album ken and Kaputt so I was pretty keen because those are the two best Destroyer albums. It was all around a totally rewarding night.

5) Frank Turner @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, September 20, 2018 (unrated)

There are a lot of acts out there trying to pull off the Springsteen working man rock thing. Unfortunately, most of them only rate as photocopies of photocopies of The Boss. Turner’s not like that. He’s got his own rock-punk posi-gospel thing going down and, paradoxically, because of that Turner’s show is probably the closest to a Springsteen-like musical sermon I’ve seen from the younger generation.

4) The Pursuit of Happiness @ Supermarket, October 4, 2018 (unrated)

In the last few years I’ve managed to catch a number of ’80s Can-Rock heroes (Northern Pikes, Crash Vegas, Slow) I had never listed because I never realistically thought there’d ever be a chance to see any of them ever play again. When TPOH got back together to play a show to support the reissue of their perfect Love Junk album I put on the rare (for me) industry hustle to get into the small club show. It worked and I got to witness some of my all-time favourites (“Consciousness Raising As A Social Tool,” “I’m An Adult Now,” “Beautiful White”).

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Consciousness raising as a social tool.

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3) Suicidal Tendencies @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, July 25, 2018 (#34 on the list)

This was supposed to be a fun nostalgia trip where I could celebrate listening to “Institutionalized” and “Possessed To Skate” some three decades ago, but it ended up being far more than that. It turns out I had internalized many of these thrash-punk-metal songs far more than I had ever realized. I hadn’t listened to songs like “You Can’t Bring Me Down” in almost 30 years, but the righteous rage behind them came right back.

2) John Mellencamp @ Meridian Centre, St. Catharines, October 7, 2018 (#6 on the list)

Pursuing this list over the years has given me a special kind of clarity about what I’m willing and not willing to do in order to see a desired show. Things like cost, whether it’s a seated or standing venue, the weather, and whether I’ve got other social obligations are just some of the factors that go into a decision-making stew to cross-reference against The List. For John Mellencamp I was willing to ruin Thanksgiving. Well, not my Thanksgiving, so much as my attendance at my in-law Thanksgiving, which I skipped in order to see the man formerly known as Cougar. And it was worth it. I cried like five times and was pretty choked a half-dozen others. All those songs I loved from the Scarecrow album still hit and still have all the gravitas of back when I first discovered them — “Minutes To Memories” was heavy, “Small Town” fucking killed… it was all hits with heart. Also, the new songs were soooo woke. It was probably the first and only time an audience of old white people from St. Catharines would ever be confronted with a song about Black Lives Matter and were forced to consider it. Same with issues like immigration and racism. Basically, Cougar came into this backwoods city and preached. Also, it’s remarkable now that I can see it more clearly how much the politics of a record like Scarecrow shaped my world/political/moral values some decades later. Shows like this are why The List exists.

1) Neko Case @ Danforth Music Hall, September 24, 2018 (#25 on the list)

Technically, I’ve seen Neko Case a number of times already, although all of those times have been as a member of The New Pornographers. Which is weird because I enjoy her solo work far more than the Pornos. That said, when I finally got to see Case on my birthday this year I wasn’t expecting to have it affect me as deeply as it did. What’s clear is that Neko is a glorious, unique voice and no matter what she was singing (this night’s setlist skipped handfuls of my personal faves) she has the ability to turn each song into magic. “Maybe Sparrow,” “Margaret vs Pauline,” “Deep Red Bells,” “Look For Me I’ll Be Around”… I just have to look at that list and I not only can remember how wonderful they were, I can almost feel them again. If that’s not a sign of having experienced something beyond, I don’t know what is.

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Paul Williams, Legendary ’70s Songwriter and ‘Muppets’ Guest-Star, is ‘Still Alive’

Paul Williams

Paul Williams

Legendary singer-songwriter/television guest-star Paul Williams received two Emmy nominations for his work on a Muppets special a couple years back. When he went to the awards ceremony, he received an interesting greeting from an old showbiz acquaintance.

“All of a sudden, Tom Hanks got up and he came over, and he went, ‘Oh my God! You’re still alive!” Williams tells Spinner with a laugh.

Hanks isn’t the only one who thought that Williams, the man behind classics like the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” Three Dog Night’s “Old Fashioned Love Song,” the “Love Boat” theme and Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection,” was spending more time pushing up daisies than contemplating rainbows these days. Filmmaker Stephen Kessler had just assumed his childhood idol had long since passed away until he stumbled on some amazing news while searching the Internet one night: Paul Williams was alive and well — and still famous in Manitoba.

After a brief correspondence, Kessler traveled to an event in Winnipeg to meet the singer and convince him to star in the documentary that would become Paul Williams: Still Alive, which just enjoyed its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“There was something about Paul, because of the way I connected to him on TV, that made me want to do a film about him,” says Kessler.

Williams was far less excited about the idea. After willingly stepping away from the spotlight to take care of his addictions (to alcohol and fame) and build a better life for himself and his family, the last thing he wanted to do was tempt any long-dormant demons.

“I said to Steve at the beginning there’s something really pathetic about some little old man with his cup saying, ‘Please sir, can I have some more fame?'” Williams explains.

Even the process of filming the documentary felt wrong to him, and reminded him too much of his old life as the attention-happy talk show guest who was on The Tonight Show 48 times.

“There’s something about pretending the camera wasn’t there that felt so Old World to me. An alcoholic can abstain from alcohol. Cocaine addicts can abstain from cocaine. I think at one point, I had a deep hunger, and it was for the camera being on me. I was like the food addict who was now playing with a little bit of something that was highly addictive in my life, so it’s an odd feeling, for me, to be a participant in this.”

Eventually, Williams convinced Kessler to join him in front of the camera to make the whole process feel less artificial. That was when Paul Williams: Still Alive started to take shape. Any notion of a straightforward, where-are-they-now profile piece gave way to a rich exploration of hero worship, the creative process, and a man who who finally found what he was looking for when he turned his back on fame.

Even though Williams is out of the spotlight, he still remains extremely active in the music community. In addition to his work as an addiction advocate, he’s also President of The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and continues to work on his own material.

He doesn’t listen to as much music as he used to, because he finds it impossible to do so without wanting to write some of his own, but he does enjoy current artists like Jason Mraz and Daft Punk. He played a duet of “The Rainbow Connection” with Mraz, and is now working on something with the French dance cyborgs. He’s also excited about the recently released Green Album, which features covers of songs that he wrote for The Muppets by artists like Weezer, Sondre Lerche and the Fray.

“It’s a chance for a young audience to rediscover work that I’m really proud of,” he says. “I love it. I’m a huge fan of My Morning Jacket, and I’m discovering some new acts, some really talented people.”

When he wants to calm his creative urges, he turns to reality crime shows. “‘The First 48’ is my favourite show on television. It’s as far away from the glitz of showbiz as you can get, solving two murders,” he laughs.

What he’s most proud of right now, though, is his brand new song that plays over the credits to “Still Alive,” a celebration of the peace and happiness that he has found. “I feel better about the song I’ve written for this movie than anything I’ve done in a long, long time. I think I finally wrote the song about my life.”

“I put it on the end of the film and it’s so great that he could have the last word in his own voice with his own music,” says Kessler. “It really adds something to the film.”

Williams is so proud of it that he’s a little worried people won’t get to hear his tale of self-discovery properly if they enjoy the film too much.

“I hope people don’t applaud through the credits at the end of the movie and then miss the song. Which would actually be an amazing comment on all of this. You feel like you do your best work and it disappears in applause? I don’t want the applause; I want you to listen!”

This story was originally published September 14, 2011 via Spinner AOL.

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The Weather Station & Jennifer Castle Collaboration Featured On Polaris Podcast EP 20

Polaris Podcast EP7 was live from Ottawa.

The 20th episode of the Polaris Podcast focused on a recent Polaris Collaboration Session between past nominees The Weather Station and Jennifer Castle.

The acts record two songs — The Weather Station’s “I Tried to Wear the World (feat. Jennifer Castle)” and Jennifer Castle’s “Midas Touch (feat. The Weather Station).” They’re available on streaming services and will become a Record Store Day Canada promotional item in 2019.

This and other Polaris Podcast episodes can be found on iTunes, Google Play or Spotify.

Or, to make it easy, you can listen to it right here:

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Smashing Pumpkins Play Supposed Farewell Toronto Show

Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins

By uncompromisingly kicking-off this small venue gig with the 10-minute epic “Glass And The Ghost Children,” Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins crew set the tone for the rest of the night — they may be a huge rock band, but they’re still going to do whatever the hell they want to, when they want to and how they want to.

Regardless, two-plus hours of music and 20-some songs (considering the last third of the show deteriorated into a noodling session of cover songs and medleys) the Smashing Pumpkins proved they were not only ace rockers, but also ace facilitators of what could be described as a drunken goth-rock parody of a Promise Keepers convention.

Whether it was through pummeling the crowd with a sped up “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” or through the irony-fist-pump posturing of “Heavy Metal Machine,” it was obviously Lord Billy could do no wrong this night. It also would seem that we were witnessing the next step in Billy Corgan’s evolution from angsty grunge god to a mellower Buddha rock god, if you’ve got the comic book sensibilities to follow.

Corgan’s profuse bowing to the audience, “god blesses” and such would seem crass coming from someone of his elevated status if he hadn’t seemed so damn genuine when he was doing them. And it was ultimately this genuine affection which helped ensure the Pumpkins got over this night. The actual show was somewhat spotty, what with the aforementioned noodle-jam off going on between Corgan and fellow guitarist James Iha and the Pumpkins’ collective slavish devotion to meddle and alter their songs.

“Zero” was viciously rendered, but “Cherub Rock” seemed to be one of the few songs where the Pumpkins acted like they were just going through the motions.

Perhaps the highlight of the night came when Corgan performed a solo acoustic cover of Rush’s “Limelight.” All I’ll say about that one is that when you think about it, it’s shocking how many people know all the words to the average Rush song.

When Iha did a twisted take on Them’s “Gloria” instead as “Canada.” (“C-A-N/A-D-A/Cannnn-ada”), the crowd were more than happy to take the bait, not in small part because it gave them an excuse to shout their catcall flatteries to new bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur.

Much less the foil-for-the-frontperson she was in Hole, Auf Der Maur still managed to blow a few kisses and throw out the goat horns on multiple occasions.

Much less flattering however was what could be called the “Tribute To Howlin’ Wolf Set To The Tune Of Crawling King Snake.” This probably represented the musical low-point for the evening, despite the fact a sizable segment of the audience were actually howling along with Corgan when he’d “HOOOWWWLLL!!” into the mic.

Still, despite whatever low-lights there were, for any devotee of the Pumpkins, this was undoubtedly a night of music bliss. They pulled out old classics like “I Am One” and blistered through new tunes like “The Everlasting Gaze.” And the bonus outpouring of affection from Corgan to the audience proved that love is truly all you need.

This story was originally published March 22, 2000 via Chart Communications

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