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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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Morrissey Exhumes The Smiths Live In Hamilton

Morrissey live in Hamilton.

Morrissey live in Hamilton.

LIVE: Morrissey
February 14, 2000
Hamilton Place
Hamilton, Ontario

“Half A Person.”

“Meat Is Murder.”

“Is It Really So Strange?”

“Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.”

“Shoplifters Of The World Unite.”

Five Smiths songs. Betcha you’re kicking yourself for not making the drive to Hamilton now.

After dropping so many of the “oldies” as Mozzer so quaintly referred to them, let’s face it, any sort of objective criticism went out the window. And there were more than a few things which could have flown back in Morrissey’s face this night: He chose to play the steeltown of Hamilton rather than Toronto, a mere hour away (but now that I think about it, Moz has always had a strange working-class fixation despite his pure bourgeois ponce). He has no record label, largely due to the fact his last record, Maladjusted, was truly horrible. And, at 40 or so, Moz isn’t exactly the winsome young turk that made sexually ambiguous hearts flutter back in The Smiths days.

Still, by about the third song in, all of the potential black marks against this show were rendered moot, showing just what kind of performance Stephen Patrick could put on.

Moz started out slowly, with a three-pack of mid-tempo numbers that included “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” and “I Am Hated For Loving.” They were warmly received and prompted the obligatory surge of Moz diehards to the front of the stage, which was surprisingly easy considering that Hamilton Place is a soft-seat venue (and yes, everybody was standing throughout the show, something I’m not sure would have happened if Moz had played in the more dour surroundings of Massey Hall in Toronto).

Things really got going, however, when the festivities were sped up with “Billy Budd” and “November Spawned A Monster.” By this time Moz had launched his first sweaty t-shirt into the crowd and had his first stage-invader.

Throughout it all, Moz was peppering the crowd with witty banter, coy lines and even some jokes. He was laughing and jovial, and it truly was a departure from his customary tortured writhing. That injection of humour just may have been what helped get him over this night as well. We know Morrissey’s days of playing to 12,000 at Maple Leaf Gardens are over, and you have to admit he’s haggaring somewhat. But he’s smart enough to know that if he’s getting his people to not only travel an hour from Toronto to see him, but drop $40 for the privilege of doing so, he better do more than leave them stewing in a nostalgic fog recalling how that special boy or girl broke their heart.

I must say though, that nostalgic fog felt pretty good when the band broke into Smiths’ classic “Half A Person.” Like a bolt of electricity, this instantly sent a shock through the crowd. At this point, there were no more questions about Moz’s performance or appearance. Everybody was in the palm of his hand. From there, the crowd lapped up “Hairdresser On Fire” (turned into a faux rip on London, Ontario) and “Boxers” before a tempo change once again with “Now My Heart Is Full.”

With the crowd firmly hooked, the stagelights turned a blaring red and Moz entered into “Meat Is Murder.” If the first half of the show was about a friendlier, Moz-as-entertainer vibe, “Meat Is Murder” brought back all the morbid loathing that drew all those lonely-yet-haughty-types to The Smiths so long ago in the first place. Wrenching and poignant, it would have made a fine conclusion to the evening, except there was still more to come.

A crowd-stoking “Is It Really So Strange?” and “Alma Matter” closed off the regularly scheduled program for the evening. But when Moz and the boys re-emerged at the encore to perform “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” and “Shoplifters Of The World Unite,” the crowd broke into their biggest singalong of the whole evening in addition to prompting a renewed rush of stage invaders.

It was something of an abrupt end considering Moz had only just set the assembled masses into a frenzy, but you’re not going to hear much complaining. About the only thing that could have made the night better would have been a double shot of “Pretty Girls Make Graves” and “Panic.” And besides, how many times are you ever going to hear the Moz play five Smiths songs again?

This review was originally published February 18, 2000 via Chart Communications.

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Metallica’s Reputation Vindicated By Their Live Show

Metallica

Metallica

LIVE: Metallica
October 26, 2009
Air Canada Centre
Toronto, Ontario

It’s been 13 years since the haircuts and the “alternative” Load album, nine years since Lars Ulrich versus Napster and five since the group therapy of the Some Kind Of Monster documentary.

That’s a long time for the biggest and baddest band in the heavy metal world to be lost in the wilderness, but if Monday night’s show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre is any indication, Metallica have once again found their way.

It probably helped that Metallica brought Lamb Of God as openers to keep them honest. The youngsters (at least comparatively) nipping at their heels were a double-kick drum, extreme metal hit for all the under-25 shaved-headed bros in the sold out ACC. To these older school ears, there wasn’t enough “song” to match the band’s relentless metal-ness, but anyone in the frothing circle pit that formed at the one end of the arena floor no doubt thought otherwise.

Metallica started their set in almost complete darkness with a new song from the Death Magnetic album, “That Was Just Your Life,” content to let a slashing laser show cutting across the band’s massive blue line-to-blue line stage setup be the main draw.

“The End Of The Line,” another new song, was next. Singer/guitarist James Hetfield would bound from one corner of the massive stage to the next, making each successive pocket of fans he faced go crazy. However, it wasn’t until the third song, “Ride The Lightning,” when the thrash legends’ return to form truly showed itself in the 36,000 thousand raised fists pumping furiously along.

Ulrich may get maligned as bourgeois whiner who’s lost touch with his common fanbase, but you’d never know it by the brave soul in the front row who held up their handmade “LARS” sign through every mosh or jostle. Or the multi-dozen air drummers that could be seen hammering away in each and every section of the building during any given song.

Likewise, when a mere flick of his hand in their direction would send the crowd roaring, it was pretty certain that nobody cared about guitarist Kirk Hammett’s emo breakdown about there not being enough solos in latter Metallica songs.

For his part, bassist Robert Trujillo, couldn’t do much wrong. He’ll probably always get a free pass from me for being in Suicidal Tendencies, but whenever he crossed paths with Hetfield and the two would fist-bump (known around here as the “swine flu handshake”), or when he stomped across the stage during a pounding “Sad But True,” he gave every impression of utter badassery.

Hetfield still has all the menacing posing down pat, but what was probably most interesting from him were the two separate between-song speeches stressing the importance of the “live” Metallica experience and how if you attend a Metallica show you’ve joined “the family.”

The subtext screamed “we’ve given up on worrying about the internet and album sales,” but when a spontaneous hugfest broke out amongst a 100-or-so pit thrashers at the end of “Master Of Puppets” it would be impossible to deny that at that very second the family tree made up of brothers-from-other-mothers in the ACC was virtually unravelable.

Some of the older material could have been played better: “One” was a touch pandering in its crowd singalong-ness and the ACC crowd weren’t quite able to keep up with a sped up “Enter Sandman.” At least a punky “Fight Fire With Fire” made up for its imperfect delivery with spirit.

“Nothing Else Matters,” meanwhile, may have turned into something of a signature song — at least for Hetfield. He started the track perched on a stool and by the end of it was on his knees rolling around the stage. It’s not like he’s a passionless performer, but there was a certain newfound vulnerability in the delivery that made it something greater.

Metallica took a short pause before launching into their encore set with the Queen cover “Stone Cold Crazy.” Hetfield’s voice isn’t well suited to cribbing Freddie Mercury’s, so it made for an awkward couple minutes. Far better were the blistering renditions of Kill ‘Em All classics “Whiplash” and an all-in, house lights-up burn through “Seek & Destroy” that featured dozens of black beach balls released from the rafters.

The new songs occasionally failed (“Cyanide,” “All Nightmare Long”) and turning their bigger hits into pop singalongs was vaguely annoying, but when it came down to it, Metallica delivered a solidly heavy show, which is the only thing metal fans have wanted from them in the first place. Now that they’re delivering, we can all be a happy Metallica family once again.

Here’s Metallica’s set list:

“That Was Just Your Life”
“The End Of The Line”
“Ride The Lightning”
“The Memory Remains”
“Fade To Black”
“Broken, Beat And Scarred”
“Cyanide”
“Sad But True”
“One”
“All Nightmare Long”
“The Day That Never Comes”
“Master Of Puppets”
“Fight Fire With Fire”
“Nothing Else Matters”
“Enter Sandman”

Encore:
“Stone Cold Crazy” (Queen cover)
“Whiplash”
“Seek & Destroy”

This review was originally published October 27, 2009 via Chart Communications.

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Samaritan News 10 Pack: Rush, Metallica, Neil Young, More

Rush

Rush

I’ve been doing a bunch of stuff  over at the music-ish charity ‘n’ good news website Samaritan Mag.

Here’s a batch of news pieces in November and December:

Rush Donate $40k To Gord Downie Cancer Fund

Neil Young Calls on President Obama in Standing Rock Support Letter

What Is Giving Tuesday?

Heavy Metal Bowling Event In Ronnie James Dio’s Memory Raises Nearly $50K

Year-End: MusiCounts Donated $525K Worth of Instruments and Gear to 33 Community Groups

Metallica Doing Club Show in Toronto to Support Daily Bread Food Bank

Andy Kim Christmas with Nelly Furtado, Ron Sexsmith, Sloan and More, on Way to a Sell-Out

Russell Brand Advocates For Political Change, Optimism In New Video

Monster Truck Are ‘For The People’ With New Throwback Animated Video

World Diabetes Day Is Today, Frederick Banting’s Birthday

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Manifesto Supports Toronto’s Hip-Hop Culture

Manifesto

Manifesto

One of the marquee hip-hop events on the Toronto event calendar that isn’t 100 per cent OVO/Drake-ified is the announce fall concert/event series Manifesto.

Manifesto caps each fest with a free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square that matches up-and-coming locals with huge international stars.

I interviewed Manifesto chair Che Kothari in the lead up to this year’s event for Samaritan Mag.

To find out what his vision for Manifesto’s future is, click here.

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Van Halen Up To Their Old Theatrical Tricks

Van Halen

Van Halen

LIVE: Van Halen
October 7, 2007
Air Canada Centre
Toronto, Ontario

Before Van Halen hit the stage, the hallways of the sold-out Air Canada Centre were ringing with an endless series of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” chants. And, sure enough, his guitar theatrics would go on to melt many minds that night. But the real story of the night was two other Van Halen members — returning singer David Lee Roth and newly installed 16-year-old bassist Wolfgang Van Halen.

It’s taken 23 years of fits and miss-starts, but there was DLR waving a giant red flag when the curtain came down and Eddie ripped into the opening of their Kinks cover, “You Really Got Me.”

There was no discernible sign of the years of feuding and acrimony between Roth and Eddie that led to Diamond Dave’s two decade-long exile. Indeed, the two hugged and made multiple, pointed displays of bro-manship throughout the evening.

Roth dug deep into his bag of showy tricks all night. There were the obligatory staff twirling and spin kick exhibitions, a session of mic stand phantom baseball playing, bedazzley sequined jackets, top hats, harmonicas and a Razhel-worthy imitation of a motorcycle engine revving. In pretty much any other band, antics like this would quickly be considered irritating. But Roth’s role in Van Halen is still clear after all these years. He’s the trickster, the joker and the party maker, and it works to conceptual perfection against Eddie’s potent riffing and an endless series of songs about chicks ‘n’ rockin’ ‘n’ gettin’ unchained.

Eddie’s son Wolfgang joining the band is an entirely different and intriguing new element to Van Halen. VH traditionalists are bent out of shape by Eddie’s ousting of longtime bassist Michael Anthony in favour of his son. But, let’s face it, Halen are a family business.

So if anyone was going to replace Anthony, the fact that it’s an actual blood relation softens the blow. And besides, Eddie seems to really, really dig playing on stage with his son.

They bumped into each other, played from their knees together and ran around in a way that arguably very few fathers and teenage sons will ever have a chance to relate to in any type of scenario, let alone on a stage in front of thousands.

Better, though, was that Wolfgang seemed smart enough to know his place. VH2007 are definitely the Ed and Dave show, so, save for a run around a circular catwalk that extended into the crowd from the stage during “Atomic Punk” and a grandstanding platform moment to intro “Runnin’ With The Devil,” he stayed mostly in the background.

Sure, it’s fun to joke that if Wolfgang was still a virgin before the tour, he certainly wouldn’t be by the end of it. Or to suggest that when he turned 16, Eddie told him he’d have to start paying rent and get a real job, so he did. But the truth of it was that Wolfgang’s presence was entirely accepted by the audience — the drunken, wildly manic audience.
That audience had a lot to “yearrgghh!” and fist-pump about. Halen pretty much stuck to the hits all night, delivering a set list of familiar anthems.

“Everybody Wants Some” had a fun twist, with Roth segueing into The Who’s “Magic Bus” during the breakdown. Likewise, a shirtless Eddie looked remarkably limber and healthy (even though he’s still smoking cigarettes, apparently), and he riffed on Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” in the midst of some guitar theatrics. These moments and excellent takes on “Jamie’s Crying,” “Little Dreamer” and “Unchained” had people literally stumbling over themselves in the aisles.

It was, however, the mega-hits that sealed the deal. A home stretch run of “Hot For Teacher,” “Panama” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” both showcased Eddie’s relentless guitar playing and Roth’s perfectly shameless frontwork. By the time the band hurled into “Jump,” their final song and biggest hit, Eddie hammered at a phantom keyboard with a free hand between playing, Roth ran around with a giant inflatable microphone and wore a captain’s hat, confetti rained from the ceiling, and wobbled fists were hoisted throughout the arena.

After just six dates on the tour, it’s impossible to predict if Roth and Eddie are going to keep it together, but there was no indication this night that Van Halen would be back-stepping any time soon. It’s safe to say the party is definitely on.

This review was originally published October 9, 2007 via Chart Communications.

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Nine Inch Nails Rule At Wave Goodbye Festival Appearance

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor made like Clint Eastwood on Sunday, riding into Toronto to save Virgin Festival Ontario and then presumably to vanish and possibly never be heard from again.

Although Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails posse didn’t exactly paint the Molson Amphitheatre red and change its name to Hell like Eastwood did in High Plains Drifter, they certainly salvaged the festival in their own special way.

The two day festival had been much-maligned for its last minute move from the camping destination of Burl’s Creek near Orillia, Ont. to downtown Toronto and its uneven and lightly attended first day headlined by Ben Harper & Relentless7.

The crowds were also sparse most of the day on Sunday until they swelled remarkably to about 80 per cent capacity by the start of Nine Inch Nails‘ set.

Those that made it to the show were treated to an amazing trip deep into NIN’s back catalogue. “Somewhat Damaged,” a pounding “Terrible Lie” and searing “Discipline” started the set. Somewhere in there, Reznor destroyed a guitar and prompted a roadie into a lengthy on stage cameo to repair collateral damage to a keyboard.

If this was to be the “Wave Goodbye” tour that Reznor had been suggesting, it was clear the band were going to go out all guns blazing.

“March Of The Pigs,” “Closer” and “Gave Up” were all delivered with ruthless intensity and all the spit and bile that has made Reznor the angst icon he is.

It wasn’t until the tempo changed between some atmospheric pieces from The Downward Spiral that Reznor dropped the hate machine veil, saying “Thank you so much for the support over the years. It means so much to us.”

Reznor would say little else all night. He stopped to apologize after “Wish” to explain that he was sick and was losing his voice, but concluded his confession with a “fuck it” before barreling into “Suck” and signature Joy Division cover “Dead Souls.”

“Hurt” felt a little on the obligatory side, but the closing one-two of “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like A Hole” were a furious way to go out. There was no encore, just a short “thank you” and Reznor walking off stage into the night and that was perhaps the best way it could have ended.

For those who actually showed up before Nine Inch Nails played the VFest lineup yielded many musical rewards.

Pet Shop Boys‘ classic electro disco was fascinating. Their brightly coloured extravaganza was definitely the biggest multimedia event of the fest. It would be tough to accurately describe the swirling, dancing and flashing that went on, but it might be close to say it’s what would happen if Tron collided with a gigantic gay rainbow.

Many of PSB’s long-time classics like “Suburbia,” “Always On My Mind” and “Domino Dancing” were reworked perhaps to their detriment, but a cover of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” — complete with Neil Tennant in a kingly robe — exceeded the original and their top hit “West End Girls” positively boomed to close out their set.

The Boardwalk “Stage,” which was essentially a merch tent with some speakers and gear set up in it and a giant lamp post obstructing the view, showcased some solid artistry all day.

Silver Starling, a group of brilliant resumed (Arcade Fire, Young Galaxy) Montrealers gave it a good shot, though their swoony rock was probably better suited to bedroom headphones than restless NIN fans.

The D’Urbervilles would fare better with their bristling dance/punk/hardcore/whateverthekidsarecallingit. Their attack was relentless and frontman John O’Regan — who looks like androgynous singer Phranc — was a positively magnetic presence.

The Von Bondies would play next and they ripped. Their set was all loud and fast and it was a perfect shot of adrenaline. It was also the first time VFesters started to shake at that hated lamp post in their way. I was hoping for them to topple it in a fit of collective vandalism, but it never happened.

Back when Jack White was beating on Jason Stollsteimer, it became kinda gauche to like the The VBs mostly because King Jack said so. But as they fired through song after song of wicked garagey punk rock ‘n’ roll, it dawned on me that the Bondies shouldn’t be discounted so easily.

The way I see it, they’re pretty much staying true to their vision. Meanwhile, White is hopping around every which way trying to find himself, all the while fighting a mini-war against consumers via his “authentic” record label. Twenty years from now one of these acts is going to end up like Eric Clapton and the other like The Ramones… and I know which’ll be cooler.

By the time Plants And Animals played, they had solved the obstructed view dilemma. They simply set up in the middle of the crowd — a huge leap out of the box for a festival of this nature. Their Parc Avenue tracks seemed more rocked up for the fest crowd, which showed another nod towards adaptability as well. I was amongst those restlessly waiting for NIN at this point, too, but they deserved high marks for innovation.

Some of the acts on the Virgin Mobile main stage didn’t fare so well. We joke about it, but play “Superman’s Dead” in front of thousands of Canadians and that “why-ee-I-ee-I-I” makes complete and total sense. Still, as familiar as Our Lady Peace‘s many singles were, their slower moments were sending the audience scurrying to the beer vendors.

N.E.R.D. were interesting. Hands up if you knew they were a funk metal band? That was kinda weird. Same with the all shirtless surfer dude stage invasions. That was more weird.

And Sean Kingston? We felt bad for the guy, getting shuttered off to the wilderness of the Virgin Radio Stage, but he drew as many people as anyone on the Boardwalk Stage. And I’d prop him up any day if I had to choose between his charming pop singles and a return of Diddy.

In the end, though, it was all about Reznor. Everyone knew it, everyone was waiting for it and it was Nine Inch Nails who would end up making Virgin Festival Ontario.

This review was originally published August 31, 2009 via Chart Communications.

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