Tag Archives: Recollections

Julia Jacklin’s ‘Crushing’ Is Aaron’s Top Album Of 2019

Julia Jacklin Crushing

Julia Jacklin Crushing

Doing an annual top albums list for as long as I have one starts to see the true value in the exercise. It’s not the ranking, codifying or picking the “best” things so much as it’s about stitching together a tapestry of one’s year and seeing the patterns that emerged.

Much like in 2018, a lot of my personal music listening energy was devoted to my Before They Die list — a meticulously curated list of musical acts I need to see before, well, y’know — and I ended up catching 12 on-the-list and 17 list-adjacent acts on top of whatever other concert-going I did.

That meant a little less energy spent on discovery. It also meant if one pattern emerged it was that there was lots of leaning on the past. I don’t mean that in the Rolling Stone Magazine-will-always-give-Dylan/Springsteen/Stones-perfect-reviews leaning on the past kinda way. What it did mean, though, was there were a lot of albums that could be argued represent new forms of things I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Read below to see the patterns that emerged.

Bubbling under for 2019: Abjects, Geoff Berner, Sondra Sun-Odeon, Mimico, Jacques Greene, King Gizzard, De la Noche, PUP, Wargirl. (Also, Thus Owls’ The Mountain That We Live Upon probably would have been my #3 but it came out in Sept. 2018 and that was just too 2018.)

10) Mercury Rev — Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited

The best part of an album isn’t always the album itself, so much as the sense of discovery around the album. Mercury Rev redoing Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete with a cast of guest vocalists not only serves as a wonderful intro to Gentry, but also makes a wonderful entry point for contributors like Margo Price, Carice van Houten (Melisandre from Game of Thrones can sing?) and Phoebe Bridgers.

Hear “Sermon” ft Margo Price

9) Angel Olsen — All Mirrors

Sometimes when I play Fantasy A&R Man the best idea I can come up with is “a new Connie Francis… but goth.” There are points on Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors where she comes this close.

Watch “All Mirrors”

8) Murray Lightburn — Hear Me Out

I’m a firm Dears loyalist and might consider them my favourite Canadian band. However, my acceptance of their transition from an early days chaotic bombast machine to something with more dignity and refinement has been hard won. So it was a touch surprising that Lightburn lead singer Murray Lightburn’s bombast-free second solo album would strike so deep. What Lightburn gives us — “I Give Up” is a soul ballad from another time, “I’m Not Broken” has knowing gospel touches — paints with just enough different colours to enthrall.

Watch “Changed My Ways”

7) Rustin Man — Drift Code

This record is quite literally the output of a wobbly old weirdo who spent two decades building a science project in his back shed. Read my full review here.

Watch “Judgement Train”

6) Tallies — Tallies

It’s been a slow and not absolute process, but I’m on my way to divesting from Morrissey because of his terrible politics and worldview and middling late-period music. Having an act like Tallies and songs like the jangle gem “Midnight” help soften this transition.

Watch “Midnight”

5) Deadbeat Beat — How Far

If you like Sloan’s Jay songs you’ll love Deadbeat Beat’s How Far. I’m particularly partial to “Dim Bulbs.”

Watch “You Lift Me Up”

4) Michael Kiwanuka — Kiwanuka

This new Kiwanuka album is exquisite — a majestic, soaring, hands-held-high sermon from Mt. Soul. The brilliance of the individual bits of this record are only half the story, though. The other half comes from basking in the glow of the brilliant craftsmanship. Kiwanuka is a master of his domain and to be able to witness such excellence is its own type of reward.

Watch “You Ain’t The Problem”

3) Moonface — This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet

Technically, this was a late 2018 release, but I didn’t really tweak to it until well into 2019. And yes, I realize that it’s near hypocritical to endorse Moonface while disqualifying Thus Owls, but it’s my list and my rules, so suck it.

This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet is a fascinator. It’s two separate projects — half a delayed keyboard treatment audio experiment, and half songs sung from the perspective of the Minotaur of Greek mythology — woven together to create something otherworldly and unique. The Minotaur songs strike particularly deeply. For a giant, blood-thirsty, bull-headed beast, the Minotaur’s journey forgiving all those who’ve hurt it is one of the most genuine, better and human set of stories I’ve heard put to song.

Watch “Minotaur Forgiving Knossos”

2) Hawksley Workman — Median Age Wasteland

In the year 2019 I was not expecting to a) rate a Hawksley Workman album so highly, and b) to feel it so deeply. And yet here we are.

To be fair, I’ve always been casually fond of Workman’s dandy woodsman idiosyncrasy, but with Median Age Wasteland he seems optimized. Having the above-mentioned Murray Lightburn on production probably helped. Certainly Workman’s vocals are both torqued up and focused in ways they may not have been in the past. Where Median Age Wasteland truly stands out, though, is in the storytelling. Whether it’s the mythologizing of a snowmobile (“Snowmobile”), the joyful BMX bike gang journeying (“Battlefords”), the tributes to forgotten figure skaters (“Oksana”) or even the outwardly ludicrous (“Stoners Never Dream”), Workman takes us to fantastical places with each and every song.

Watch “Italy”

1) Julia Jacklin — Crushing

At the 4:27 mark of Jacklin’s “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You” she delivers a series of repeated “don’t. know. how. to. keep. loving. you” lines so charged, so gut-wrenching you can’t help but worry if Jacklin will ever find her way. The entire Crushing album is filled with these emotion-charged bombs as Jacklin explores unraveling relationships, personal agency, hurt and self-healing in an unflinchingly beautiful way.

Watch “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You”

Other album lists…

2018 Top Ten — Idles’ Joy As An Act Of Resistance. is #1
2017 Top Ten — Land Of Talk’s Life After Youth is #1
2016 Top Ten — Daniel Romano‘s Mosey is #1
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart’s SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1

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Death Of An iPod And The Comfort In Specific Objects

Recently Sarah’s beloved sixth-generation black 80GB iPod Classic died.

This wasn’t just a loss because of the difficulty in trying to find some new surrogate device, it was a loss because the iPod represented a specific type of comfort object for her.

Sarah explained why in a piece for Vox’s The Goods section.

To read it go here.

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Filed under Culture, Music, Recollections, Shameless Promotion

Las Vegas Psycho Fest Made A McDonald’s Themed Metal Band Seem Normal

Psycho Fest 2016

In the weeks leading up to Psycho Fest Las Vegas I found myself having to navigate increasingly awkward conversations.

After all, saying to people, “Yeah, I’m not around next week because I’m going to Psycho Fest” yields all sorts of difficult followups.

Namely, what the fuck is Psycho Fest Las Vegas?

If you believe Psycho Fest’s top-line, it was a multi-day heavy music festival featuring classic rockers like Alice Cooper and Blue Oyster Cult, metalcore and post-hardcore acts like Converge and Drive Like Jehu, and stoner-doom acts like Electric Wizard and Sleep.

Shows were split between three venues in the Hard Rock Casino — the 4,000 seat main showroom The Joint, the 650 capacity club Vinyl, and the Paradise Pool, an outdoor stage overlooking, yep, a giant swimming pool.

A slightly deeper look, however, yielded an impressively curated list of names you wouldn’t find at your average energy drink-sponsored mega-fest. Arthur Brown, the Brit eccentric behind the song “Fire” joked it took “the signatures of four Senators” to play his first U.S. show in ages. Other names like Truth And Janey and Wovenhand were playing rare or one-off shows. Doom pioneers like Pentagram and Candlemass were here. So were Fu Manchu and Uncle Acid.

Basically, the whole event was like the Kyuss Desert Sessions miraculously manifested into a strange 100 band-strong takeover of an off-strip Vegas casino. Either that or this whole thing was the masturbatory fever dream of Josh Homme as a sort of concert booking Freddy Krueger.

The thing is, when you take a spirit walk into the desert for something like this you come out changed. More experienced, more knowing. Here are a number of the things I took away from the festival:

1. Grimalice Is A Hero

There’s a McDonald’s-themed Black Sabbath parody band called Mac Sabbath. Their gimmick is amazing. They basically turn Sabbath songs (“Iron Man” becomes “Frying Pan,” “Sweet Leaf” is “Sweet Beef”) into anti-food industry anthems, all while wearing costumes perverting traditional McD’s characters like Ronald McDonald. What was most amazing about their set, though, was that the bassist “Grimalice” played an entire show in 90 degree F heat in their gigantic purple outfit. Respect.

2. Questions About Saws

During Black Heart Procession’s set frontman Pall Jenkins played a saw during a song while their drummer created thunderclap-like rumbles using a piece of industrial metal sheeting-as-a-gong. My question is: how much effort goes into finding just the right saw and just the right chunk of sheet metal for this? Did they spend a Saturday morning scouring a Home Depot, clanging at pieces of tin and discreetly bending saws between aisles? Did they scour the local junkyard? Or maybe they just have day jobs as foley people and they took that stuff from work.

3. Vegas Food Lifehack

When the casino you’re in charges $1.50 for a banana and $15 for a modest breakfast plate, you disrupt the system by walking to the Silver Sevens casino a block away, sign up for a player’s card, then eat all of the following things at their buffet for $7…

Cheese blintz
Pancake
French toast
Berry stuffed pancake
Biscuit with gravy
Hash brown
Bacon
Chicken fried steak
Apple juice
Scrambled eggs
“Breakfast potatoes”
Sausage patty
Corned beef hash
Watermelon
Vanilla frozen yogurt root beer float
Jello

4. Beelzefuzz vs. Bezlebong

This will take a bit of remembering, but Beelzefuzz is the shitty one that sounds like shit Uriah Heep and Bezlebong is the good one that’ll send you off on a rant about how, with their complete lack of vocals, their dependence on laying down a singular riff for five minutes at a time, and their majestic hair-flow in-sync headbanging on said riff, you will declare them stoner rock distilled down to its perfect essence.

5. Mudhoney

For years I was under the impression that some great cosmic injustice must have taken place when Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden rose up from the altera-grunge heap to take over the world, leaving behind poor Mudhoney.

I was wrong.

6. Music Festivals In Hotels

Know what’s awesome? When you can roll out of bed, into an elevator and walk your way down to see Blue Oyster Cult in six minutes. Better yet, you never have to worry about porta-potties being gross because you have YOUR OWN PRIVATE TOILET. Also, if you want to sneak off for 2-for-1 breakfast specials at Nacho Daddy on The Strip it’s only an $8 cab ride away. Open air farmer’s field music festivals are dead to me now.

7. The Budos Band

A staple of soul label Daptone Records, the afro-funk jazz act Budos Band are outwardly more at home supporting the likes of Sharon Jones or Lee Fields as opposed to appearing at a metal festival. But that’s a swerve. Their set was metal as fuck. Or at least as “metal” as a band that’s fronted by a trumpet player and a saxophone player and also features two separate guys on congas can be. In the way they acted and the way they were received, it would appear that the band, who put out the metal-spirited Burnt Offering album in 2014, appeared to have finally found their people. And when trumpeter Andrew Greene declared, “This is the greatest day of my life!” part way through their set you knew it was true.

8. Oresund Space Collective

I had a bit all ready for the Oresund Space Collective, “a music collective from Denmark and Sweden that play totally improvised space rock music,” who were scheduled to play from 5 – 7 a.m. at second stage venue Vinyl. It went like this:

“6:18 a.m. Woke up to go see Oresund Space Collective to say that I did.”

“6:26 a.m. Saw them. Now back in bed.”

Except that’s not what happened.

When I walked into Vinyl there was a pack of weirdoes throwing down some of the craziest Hawkwind/early Floyd mind bombs. Better yet, the frontman, a Gandalf lookin’ dude wearing a giant alien head, was jamming away at his “instrument,” which was basically a mixing console he used to add effects to other band members’ playing. He was also the main giver of fist bumps and high fives to the 100 or so bugged out space travelers who were on a spectacular journey.

9. Drive Like Jehu

Constantines are better.

10. Audience Demographic

Shockingly, Psycho Fest was not a complete sausage fest. It was more like a 60-40 fest, or, at worst a 65-35 peen-to-vag fest. It also wasn’t the getaway for old hippie burnouts I was expecting. The audience was younger, metal-er and 100 per cent looked the part. Here’s a rough breakdown:

17% Guitar Center employees
16% Scott Ian chin beards
14% Aspiring Suicide Girls
11% Only topic of conversation is how they’re going to complete their sleeve tattoo
10% Acts like they’re tough, but they’re actually monied Silicon Valley code dorks who chose this instead of Burning Man
10% Air guitarists
7% Dudes with luxurious manes whose cascading waves of hair made you curse the day you cut yours in the failed belief it would help you to make it in the normal world
5% Air drummers
5% Lemmy had sex with their mum back in the day
3% Turbojungen
1% That old guy who was at all the same things as us and was totally into it, proving you’re never too old to rock
1% Narcs

11. Tales Of Murder and Dust

It doesn’t sound like it’d makes sense, but watching Denmark’s Tales Of Murder and Dust unleashing their bespoke Godspeed-meets-Calexico shoegaze while doing aquatic dance moves floating around a swimming pool is a pretty righteous experience.

12. Respect Fu Manchu

With Lemmy gone (RIP), someone’s gonna have to fill Motorhead’s spot in the heavy metal lifer hierarchy and one could make a strong argument for three decade-strong Orange County vets Fu Manchu. It could be argued the band represents the stoner-doom rock genre’s first wave, but what’s more important than their place in the fuzz ‘n’ phaser timeline, is the fact they’re fucking stupendous.

It’s not that hard for a band to bust out a sweet Sabbath riff and coast on it for five minutes, but what Fu Manchu does — a deft mix of songs about classic muscle cars, drag racing and outer space — is conceptually perfect and sonically righteous.

It was their set on Sunday afternoon (which started at 4:20 p.m., by the way) which represented the biggest throwdown of the weekend. They were the undisputed masters of this reality and the standard bearers for a whole musical festival that was built upon the idea of delivering non-stop undulating waves of rippin’ stoner rock riffage. Fu Manchu’s crushing renditions of “King Of The Road,” “Saturn III” and “Regal Begal” sent The Joint’s attendees into hand-waving bouts of ecstasy more fitted to a religious ceremony than a rock concert and it truly represented the peak of the form.

This story was originally published August 30, 2016 via AUX TV.

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Things I Ate At The C.N.E. In 2019

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2019.

After a year off from the Canadian National Exhibition I got back on the bullshit again, making the most out of one well-targeted weekday trip and a couple delivered care packages to help bump up my food explorations. It’s interesting the perspective you get when you step back for a year from a near-compulsion. One of the big things I realized this year was that most of the “stunt” food has become wildly, insultingly overpriced when one considers each item’s ingredients and the comparable non-stunt versions of similar items which are also available at the fair. It’s a psychological barrier that’s real and takes a certain amount of “when am I ever going to try this again?” to motivate a person to eat this crap. That said, nobody with a still-flickering life force goes to the Ex to eat a plain cheese slice at Pizza Nova when there’s, wait for it, pickle pizza available to try (I didn’t try the pickle pizza… that’s not stunt enough).

The new craft beer & food truck & axe-throwing boutique area near what was once an activation wasteland by the Princes’ Gates was a wonderful addition to the Ex. Likewise, the Canadian Ninja Warrior set-up that has replaced the parkour show (parkour!) with the always-entertaining MC Abdominal was a great opportunity to watch physically perfect people fail like chumps. The SuperDogs show was fun, too (Pro tip: go to the first scheduled ‘Dog event of the day. It’s the only one that isn’t psycho-rammed with exasperated parents who don’t know how to navigate crowds.)

The biggest surprise of the year? A food-based redemption arc. If I didn’t experience it with my very own mouth hole I wouldn’t have believed it could happen. On to the food…

Here’s what I ate at the CNE in 2019:

Gnocchi Poutine. Gnocchi that was deep fried and covered in gravy with a smattering of cheese. The amount of cheese here left something to be desired (more cheese = good poutine, less cheese = cheap fucker bullshit hope-you-go-out-of-business “poutine”), but this was entirely acceptable. 7/10

 

Pineapple Dole Whip. I’ve got a friend who fiends for this stuff rather obsessively so when I encountered it for the first time I had to try it. And it’s… really refined pineapple slurpee? 6.9/10

 

Tokyo Street Dog. This was a tempura-battered hot dog wiener wrapped in seaweed and slathered in non-traditional (read: totally traditional if many parts of the world) condiments. It’s basically a normal hot dog with slightly left field condiments and it cost three times more than it should have. 5.6/10

 

Black Halo Bubblegum Ice Cream. It looks great with its bright blue ice cream in goth black sugar cone. There wasn’t actually much flavour to this bubblegum, though. Also, the aftermath of eating these 7% food colouring cones is two days of BRIGHT green dookies. 6/10

 

Black Halo Purple Haze Ice Cream. This was the grape ice cream version and it had much more of a flavour. 6.4/10

 

Fran’s Sriracha Peanut Butter Balls. You people really don’t need to put sriracha in everything. A rare slip-up from the usually-great Fran’s booth. 4.9/10

 

FUDGE BREAK!

My late, great grandmother used to make the most 10 out of 10-est fudge in the history of fudge and I’ve been fitfully chasing that high ever since. Would these compare? No, of course they wouldn’t. But there were still some good mouth times…

Milk Chocolate Fudge. The boringest of the CNE fudges and least able to keep up against the grandma scale. Still fudge. 7.1/10

 

Maple Fudge. Maple is a natural neighbour to Vanilla, the best fudge, but it’s also just a little bit… less. 7.7/10

 

Cookies ‘n’ Cream Fudge. They did not short on the “cookie” in this fudge, which is admirable in its way, but it also made for a fudge that was just structurally weird. Like a food with a bunch of speed bumps, which isn’t really what you want in a fudge. 7.3/10

 

Chocolate Maple Fudge. Two different textures and slightly incongruent vibes made for a fudge that was a little meh. Still fudge, though. 7.2/10

 

Skor Fudge. The Skor bits were pretty subtle. I think there might have been slivers of ginger in there making things slightly weird. If not the best, it was certainly the boldest. 7.5/10

BOOZE BREAK!

So yeah, we’re all for the new craft beer corner of the Ex that allows you to sit down for a drink in a spot that isn’t a) meant for gambling, b) has terrible country music, or c) features a whoooaaa Québécois Styx cover band.

Shiny Apple Cider and Pinot Noir. The wine jolt adds a pleasant little something to make this more than just a regular cider. Because this is booze… 10/10

 

Pommies Original Cider slushie. Remember life before the cider revolution? Neither do I, but it must have sucked. Anyway, it was hot as balls on the day we were here so the ability to hide out in a shaded corner and drink an alcoholic slushie was chef’s kiss. 10/10

 

Pommies Original Cider with Sangria. I’m not suddenly one of these all-in for cider + wine people, but this one was better than the other one. 10/10

FREE STUFF!

It used to be that the Ex was a glorious place for cheap eats and free samples. Then for a long time it wasn’t. It appears that a few companies have figured out freebies are a good thing, though.

Takis Fuego Extreme. It’s been a second since people have been marketing “Extreme” shit and it warmed my soul in the exact same way seeing a retro Maple Leafs jacket makes you go, “Oh neat… but I’d never wear that bullshit.” This was free, so I appreciated it, but after trying it I’d never pay money for it. 5.7/10

 

Maple Lodge Spicy Ultimate Chicken Frankfurter. Of all the weird things I was expecting in my food adventure, a redemption story was not one of them. Back in 2012 I tried what was unquestionably the worst county fair stunt food ever made — The Maple Lodge Chocolate Eclair Hot Dog. It’s exactly what it sounds like and it’s profoundly stupid. A couple years later Maple Lodge gave up their spot in the Food Building, seemingly disappearing under the weight of their shame, which I blame entirely on that idea. But this year they were back with a fancy outdoor grill barbecue setup and were offering free samples of their various jumbo dogs… and they were exactly the kind of thing you’d want to grill up at a barbecue. 7/10

THE DARING, AUDACIOUS, DELICIOUS AND DISGUSTING

Carla’s Cookie Box Salted Caramel Butter Tart. Look, I’ve been on butter tarts (no raisin, fuck that) since long before there were festivals and pop-up shops and other bullshit foodies hopping on the tartwagon. Getting off my high horse for a second, though, some of these new soldiers in the butter tart zeitgeist are making awesome shit. Like this. 8/10

 

Carla’s Cookie Box Nutella Butter Tart. This looks like it got hit by a hammer ’cause it suffered a bit while in transportation, but holy shit was this delicious. My mouth is watering from just looking at this stupid picture and remembering how perfect this thing was. 8.9.10

 

Super Fries K-Pop Fries. There’s a certain amount of low-r “stunt” food that isn’t really stunt food at all so much as it’s just “food from a different culture.” These kimchi fries would probably qualify. Sarah and I have been chasing after the perfect kimchi fries ever since our beloved Korean Cowboy restaurant closed a couple years back to make way for condos. These were fine but they weren’t special. The quest continues. 6/10

 

Snickle Dog.  And in the exact opposite of a redemption arc, we’ve got the fooled-me-twice of the Snickle Dog. Technically, I haven’t been fooled twice by the Snickle Dog, a hot dog and pickle wrapped in a deep-fried tortilla and covered, for some reason, with chocolate syrup. But I have tried its very close cousin, the Canadian Bacon Pickle Ball (2017), which is a piece of lukewarm garbage corn dog perverted to include a chunk of pickle. I was tricked by the idea of deep fried tortilla-fication but let my folly be a lessen to others — do not Snickle Dog. 4/10

 

Cheesecake Factory General Custard Sundae. Cheesecake Factory has taken over the Wild Child Kitchen fresh juice spot in the Food Building, which means I no longer have access to concoctions that make me shit beet juice within 30 minutes of drinking them. This, however, has turned out to be a bit of a blessing because the Factory created my favourite thing of the year, the General Custard Sundae. Made up of a Portuguese tart, vanilla soft serve ice cream, hot caramel sauce and whipped cream, this is an incredible collision of complimentary flavours. Vanilla ice cream (and vanilla, in general) gets a bad rap because white people ruin everything, but it’s amazing. And when you mash it up with a Portuguese tart and a gooey pile of hot caramel it creates something cosmic from something that seems so simple and obvious. 9/10

Additional reading:

Things I didn’t eat at the CNE in 2018 because I boycotted to support unionized workers who were fighting The Man.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2017. Including Deep Fried Chicken Foot and Savory Fried Spaghetti Donut Ball.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2016. Including Bug Dog with Roasted Crickets and Deep Fried Butter Tarts.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2015. Including Corrado’s S&M Burger and Iron Skillet’s Frosted Flakes Chicken On A Stick.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2014. Including Fran’s Thanksgiving Turkey Waffle and Coco’s Fried Chicken Cocoa Chicken.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2013. Including Nutella Jalapeno Poppers and the S’more Dog.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2012. Including the Chocolate Eclair Dog and Bacon Nation Nutella BBBLT.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2011. Including the Krispy Kreme Hamburger and Deep Fried Twix.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2010. Including Deep Fried Butter and Taco In A Bag.

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Music Gossiping On The Danko Jones Podcast

Danko Jones podcast

Danko Jones podcast

One of my favourite thing I worked on this year was helping edit international rock ‘n’ roll star Danko Jones’ new book I’ve Got Something To Say.

To help promote said book Danko had me on his long-running podcast in the fall.

We didn’t actually do much “promotion” of the book, but we sure had a time gossiping and light trash talking all sorts of things music.

To listen to this podcast episode go here.

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Filed under Books, Music, Recollections, Shameless Promotion

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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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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