Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Cow Garage, Sweet Saint Me

We will be well into 2011 before I get around to reviewing all of the albums that I want to for 2010, but I absolutely have to get this one in before the new year. Two Cow Garage is another one of those bands which you aren't listening to, but you absolutely should be. This Columbus, Ohio, based quartet released their fifth album Sweet Saint Me in October. Their previous albums have been in the alt country-ish to punk-ish range, all with a solid rock foundation. Sweet Saint Me is nearly a pure rock album, but this time the lead singers, mostly Michal Schnabel with a few tracks by Shane Sweeney, seemed to have really concentrated on honing their songwriting technique. The entire album seems more mature and focused. But don't worry, "mature and focused" can also kick fucking ass! Take my favorite track, "Lydia;" "Lydia, you're much too young to have your teeth on the tip of my tongue. If your lips were just a little bit older…" I heard through the twittervine that when Schnabel premiered "Jackson, Don't You Worry" at SXSW, a song dedicated to Sweeney's baby son, grown men were weeping. Indeed, I took a hard gulp the first time I heard it. And I'll be damned if Schnabel didn't steal the "Insolent Youth" lyric "just because you can doesn't mean you should" from me, cause I've been saying that for years. Sweet Saint Me is peppered with hard rock anthems ("My Great Gatsby"), love songs ("Closer to You"), and stories ("Lucy and the Butcher Knife"), with the occasional lyric borrowed from Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, and Bob Dylan. As a whole, this may be the strongest record that Two Cow Garage has released.

Two Cow Garage supposedly puts on a wicked live show, so catch them on tour if you can. Looks like they are on a little touring break right now. I have never seen them live, and as far as I can tell, they have never played Toronto. In fact, if you google Two Cow Garage Toronto, one of the top hits is my Last.FM page!

Jackson Don't You Worry.mp3
Buy: Sweet Saint Me (2010)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This Wheel's on Fire

Neil Young, Garth Hudson and Peter J. Moore, backed by the Sadies outside Moore's studio.

My buddy Rad Jen posted this on Facebook this weekend, and I thought that it was so brilliant that I had to share. Greg Quill, entertainment reporter for the Toronto Star, penned this wonderful essay on Neil Young and The Sadies recording the Bob Dyaln/Rick Danko classic "This Wheel's on Fire" for the album A Canadian Celebration of The Band, which was released in November 16.

This Neil’s on Fire: A classic cut reborn

Those who know him say Neil Young never begins a new recording project before cleansing his musical soul by immersing himself in The Basement Tapes, those seminal 1965 recordings of one of rock’s overwhelming Big Bang moments, when The Band – formerly The Hawks, from Toronto – and Bob Dylan, recuperating from a motorcycle accident near Woodstock, N.Y., undertook a stunningly fruitful 100-song collaboration, melding new compositions with country music, folk music, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, and redefining the forms, functions, language and boundaries of popular American music.

So, when Young turned up one morning in April 2009 at the west-end Toronto studio of award-winning music producer/engineer Peter J. Moore to add his contribution to a collection of some great and some lesser known Band songs — recorded during the past three years by a number of Canada’s prominent pop, rock and folk acts, selected and arranged by The Band’s legendary keyboardist Garth Hudson, and released last week as A Canadian Celebration of The Band, on the Curve Music label — it was appropriate that a particularly potent talisman, the original Big Pink basement tape recording of the Dylan-Rick Danko composition, “This Wheel’s On Fire,” was positioned decorously on the studio’s fireplace mantel, oozing mojo.

Young and Toronto country-rock outfit The Sadies were about to lay into what may well be the best version of the song — recorded by everyone from Ian & Sylvia to Siouxsie and the Banshees, and also known as the theme song to Absolutely Fabulous — ever recorded, and certainly the album’s money cut.

“They had intended to record it with acoustic instruments,” Moore says, recalling some of the dozens of amusing, cathartic, frustrating and catastrophic events that occurred during the lengthy recording project, the brainchild of Hudson and his wife/manager, Maud, who live in upstate New York.

“And Neil was supposed to record his bit four months earlier, but performance schedules and a sore throat kept pushing it back.”

When Young finally did show up – his three tour buses took up an entire block of the narrow residential street on which Moore’s studio is situated – it was on a travel day between concerts in Kingston and London. And he had no intention of playing an acoustic guitar.

“There’s a knock at the door, and Larry Cragg, Neil’s guitar technician, is standing there, asking how he can get ‘the rig’ into the studio,” Moore says.

Young’s guitar rig — a famously mystical contraption made up of a battered, modified vintage Fender amplifier boosted by several custom-made sound-processing devices, distortion effects and a number of reverb plates, linked together and gaffer-taped to an assembly that rests in a huge black box — can’t be turned sideways, for fear of displacing loose but vital objects, Moore was told.

“So we had about six guys lift it over the driveway fence and into the backyard, where it was unpacked, and the rig was rolled into the studio’s piano room through patio doors that had to be removed.”

Accommodating the guitarist’s huge red pedal board with it’s gigantic “umbilical cord” that ran from the main studio in the front of the building to the rig in back, meant cutting holes in doors and jambs – ad hoc renovations that Moore, credited with Hudson as co-producer on the album, was only too happy to make in order to facilitate the creation of a recording he calls “a labour of love.”

With Hudson and The Sadies in Moore’s “big room”, and his guitar rig in another, Young worked through the song, settling the arrangement, before the musicians cut “four or five” versions, any of which would have been perfectly acceptable, Moore says.

“Then Neil left, and went back into the piano room where his amp was, and closed the door. I could hear him practicing scales in there with the piano, warming up his voice . . . then things got very quiet.”

Thinking their work was more or less done, The Sadies relaxed. Dallas Good had left his electric guitar on a stand in the studio to make coffee in the adjoining kitchen. Brother Travis was in a corner picking an acoustic guitar off-mic. Garth leaned over his keyboard. Drummer Mike Belitsky, Moore recalls, had set his sticks aside and was standing by his kit, chatting with bassist Sean Dean.

“Suddenly, the piano room door flew open, and without a word, Neil rushed into the studio, picked up his guitar and whacked out this enormous chord. He was going for it.”

The only evidence you’ll hear of the panic that ensued – Dallas flying across the room, plugging in his axe (Moore edited out the “pop” in the mix), Dean picking his stand-up bass off the floor, Belitsky diving into his kit and extracting his sticks – is the missing first beat on the snare drum.

It’s a beat Moore says he’s happy to live without.

“That was a killer take. Luckily the recorder was still running.”

Part fury, part ecstasy, “This Wheel’s On Fire” by The Sadies, Hudson and Young is a defining event on A Canadian Celebration of The Band, a three-minute explosion that captures all six musicians at their best, and delivers a heart-stopping wallop. It sounds extemporaneous, immediate, too big for the room – it’s as good as rock ‘n’ roll gets.

“I think that was Neil’s intention,” Moore says. “I’m just guessing here, but when he stormed out of that back room it was as if he meant to catch everyone off guard, to get their blood pumping.

“If that was his plan, it certainly worked.”

Buy (Maple Music): Garth Hudson Presents A Canadian Celebration of The Band (2010)

Garth Hudson plays keyboards on all tracks along with the following artists:
1. Forbidden Fruit – Danny Brooks & The Rockin’ Revelators
2. Out Of The Blue – Mary Margret O’Hara
3. Acadian Driftwood – Peter Katz & The Curious
4. This Wheel’s On Fire – Neil Young and The Sadies
5. Ain’t Got No Home – Suzie McNeil
6. Clothes Line Saga - Cowboy Junkies
7. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere - Kevin Hearn & Thin Buckle
8. Sleeping - Bruce Cockburn & Blue Rodeo
9. Yazoo Street Scandal - The Road Hammers
10. The Moon Struck One – Raine Maida
11. The Shape I’m In - The Sadies
12. Tears Of Rage – Chantal Kreviazuk
13. I Loved You Too Much – Hawskley Workman
14. Knockin’ Lost John - Great Big Sea
15. King Harvest - Blue Rodeo
16. Move To Japan – The Trews
17. Genetic Method (Anew) – Garth Hudson
18. Chest Fever – Ian Thornley & Bruce Cockburn

I don't have this record yet. Who wants to get their favorite blogger an early Christmas present???

Rick Danko - This Wheel's on Fire.mp3
Buy: Times Like These (2000)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Americano

I'm hanging in the Motor City today, still in my pajamas, drinking coffee, recovering from drinking my brother's beer last night, and being very thankful for all of you jokers who read my blog! Thanks for indulging in my vanity. I post the same every year on Thanksgiving, so here we go...

This isn't exactly a Thanksgiving song, the third verse perfectly describes the Rockstar family back in the day. I heard James McMurtry perform this song live in 2007 at the El Mocambo in Toronto, and he did the last verse about the Iowa guardsman going back to Iraq a capella. You could have heard a pin drop. One of the most incredible vocal performances I have ever seen.
Now granny she's yelling.
She's ready to eat.
She's havin' conniptions.
Cause they won't take their seats.
But she's got 'em all gathered
now under one roof.
With her camcorder loaded.
She's gonna get proof.
"But do you have to wear that?"
"Well I just don’t see why."
"Please pass the potatoes."
"Aw, eat shit and die."
"Did you hear about Ellen?"
"She’s leaving, you know"
"How 'bout those Packers?"
"Think it’ll snow?"
And the minute it's over
They'll scatter like quail.
Off down the freeway
in the teeth of a gale.
Silent and shattered
and numb to the core.
They count themselves lucky
they got through one more holiday.
Buy: Childish Things (2005)

Eric Rhame is a folksinger from Duluth, Minnesota, who frequently writes about life in the upper Midwest, like how friggin' cold it is next to Lake Superior. This song is the only true Thanksgiving song that I know of, and it perfectly describes the Midwest family Thanksgiving experience. The other track has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but I just like it! Thanks for letting me use your tunes Eric!

Thanksgiving Day.mp3
Tahoe to Texas.mp3
Buy: Timber and Steel (2008)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Doug Paisley, Constant Companion

If it wasn't for the internet, I may have never discovered Doug Paisley (no relation to the American country super star Brad Paisley). I was scouring an alt country music message board back in early 2009, and a poster from the UK wrote, "Oh my! This is the stuff people. Canadian singer songwriter who brings to mind Guy Clark and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy." Whoa! Like me, Paisley lives in Toronto, and he regularly plays near where I live. And yet, it took an internet post from across the pond to discover his music. Clearly, I need to get out more often.

I was completely enamored with his 2009 self-titled debut, and ranked it as one of my favorite albums of 2009. The album opens with a heartbreaking, blubber-into-your-beer, country song called "What About Us?" "Cause I just ain't no good alone." Gulp. "We Weather" is a tender love song about making it through the rough patches in a relationship, and contains some beautiful pedal steel work. "Digging in the Ground" has a wonderfully unique piano lick. "Take My Hand" is about reconciliation. Overall, a fantastic alt country album.

Paisley released his sophomore album Constant Companion on October 12. This album is less on the twangy side, more on the singer/songwriter, indie/folk side, and features some well known musical collaborators such as Garth Hudson of The Band, Basil Donavon of Blue Rodeo, and Canadian pop star Leslie Feist. Feist and Paisley perform a beautiful duet on "Don't Make Me Wait." In the lead track "No One But You" the narrator tries to get his friend or lover to have a little more self-confidence. "At the End of the Day" reflects on the day's events while watching the sun set. The album doesn't have a stand-out track like "What About Us," but overall it is a more consistent album than his debut. If you like soft, dreamy folk music, you should definitely check this one out.

Don't Make Me Wait.mp3
Buy: Constant Companion (2010)

Interestingly, Paisley has received more press in the US and the UK than he has in Canada, possibly because his label No Quarter is based in Brooklyn. Publications like MOJO, Spin, The New Yorker, and the New York Times all lauded Paisley's debut and sophomore releases.

Paisley did a live session November 12 on CBC radio's Q, where he got host Jian Ghomeshi to sit in on drums. Paisley talks about working with the legendary Hudson, how excited he is about his Canadian tour, and performs three songs from Constant Companion. You can download the Q podcast or listen to the episode on-line here.

Paisley continues his first major Canadian tour Wednesday night in Hamilton, Ontario. He is touring with another excellent Toronto folk-ish performer, Bahamas.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Champaign, Illinois

I'll start this post by confessing something sordid about my past: From 1991-1994 I was a marching band geek. For four football seasons I played French Horn/Mellophone, Baritone/Euphonium, and Tuba/Sousaphone for the Northwestern University Marching Band. I also played for the basketball pep band and a number of non-music major concert bands. Unlike some of you musicians, I can read music. In treble and bass clefs. Key of D flat major? Bring it on!

All of my best friends are from that period of my life. For the last five years we have been doing an annual reunion which has centered around a Northwestern football game and/or one of our friend's weddings. These reunions have taken place from Las Vegas, NV, to Durham, NC, and this weekend, our third trip to Chicago. These reunions quickly degenerate into a group very successful doctors, lawyers, journalists, and business people, reliving their college days by staying up until 4 a.m. playing drinking games. At one point a few years ago I counted 55 years of higher education sitting around a table, pounding High Life and doing Absolut shots.

We have a great deal with a fabulous rental house near Wrigley field for this year's Wrigelyville Classic, a "home" football game for Northwestern verses the instate rival the University of Illinois. Even College Gameday will be there. We did a little stroll about Wrigley Field today, and everything looks so cool! I can't wait for this game!!!

So what the hell does this have to do with my music blog? Other than bragging about the fact that I can read music? On October 12 the Old 97's released their eighth (?) studio album entitled The Grand Theatre Volume One. I've been super busy this fall, so I haven't been able to fully digest this ablum yet, but overall it is another quality album, along the same lines as 2008's Blame It On Gravity. Murry Hammond's song "You Were Born to Be in Battle" is especially strong. Is it me, or is Hammond becoming an even better song writer with age?

The 97's appeared on Leno on Nov. 10, which caused them to postpone their Toronto gig. They preformed the song "Champaign, Illinois," and sounded fan-freaking-tastic. I wanted to post the video, but those jerks from NBC already yanked it off of youtube. 97's singer/songwriter Rhett Miller explained the meaning of the song on twitter through a serious of tweets which I compiled below.

In the early days of the 97's, there was a great (short-lived) radio station in Champaign that played us a lot and hired us to come play. We had so much fun in this kooky little college town. Champaign is the ultimate college town. Late nights, sleeping on people's floors... One late night, I was driving the van through Illinois as my band mates slept and to keep myself awake, I wrote this lyric about Champaign. To me, college seemed like some sort of holding pattern... Waiting for life to start. So Champaign became purgatory in the song. Not hell. I could have used Austin [TX], Madison [WI] or New Paltz, NY. But their names aren't homonyms for sparkling wine. I love you, Champaign, Illinois.

Of course, my friends and I think that picking on Champaign, Illinois, the home of the Fighting Illini, is a brilliant choice. Especially for this week's football game.

Champaign, Illinois.mp3
Buy: The Grand Theatre Volume One (2010)

"Champaign, Illinois" has co-writing to credits given to Bob Dylan. Listen to the melody and you can clearly hear Dylan's "Desolation Row." And, this is the second "Champaign, Illinois" song where Dylan shares co-writing credits. Check out this really interesting article from Smile Politely, an on-line magazine from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Despite the fact that the Smile Politely author clearly dislikes the Old 97's version, I think it's an incredibly catchy tune!

If any of you happen to be at Wrigley this weekend, I'll be in section 421, wearing a purple NU toque and purple sunglasses. Go Cats!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November Feel Bad For You

The monthly Feel Bad for You comp from our friends at the altcountrytab.ca forums. Download the zipped comp for one week only, or until I remember to kill the link.

1. Dwight Yoakam - Blame the Vain
Blame the Vain (2005)
Some Dwight always hits the spot when you crave twang.

2. Dwight Yoakam - No Such Thing
Population Me (2003)
If twang craving still persists, chow down on some more Dwight.

3. Dan Mangan - Road Regrets.mp3
Buy: Nice, Nice, Very Nice (2009)
Very strong sophomore album from this folk/rocker from British Columbia.

4. Frank Turner - Nashville Tennessee
The First Three Years (2008)
Just saw Turner live and loved his show. This is an older track, but very catchy.

5. Drag the River - Here’s to the Losers
2010 Demos (2010)

6. Murry Hammond - Next Time Take the Train
I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm On My Way (2008)
Can’t believe I missed this one in 2008.

7. Otis Redding - I'm Coming Home
Remember Me (1992)
I think this was recorded around 1967, but 1992's Remember Me was the only official release.

8. The Beauties - Without You.mp3
Buy (Maple Music): The Beauties (2010)

9. Brad - Believe In Yourself
Best Friends? (2010)

10. Eric Johnson - Tribute To Jerry Reed
Bloom (2005)

11. Various Artists - White Trash (feat. Steve Cash)
White Mansions (1978)

12. Murry Hammond - I Believe, I Believe
I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm On My Way (2008)

13. Kurt Vile - He's Alright (Bonus Track)
Childish Prodigy (2009)

14. Anne McCue - Don't Go To Texas (Without Me)
Broken Promise Land (2010)

15. The Steeldrivers - Drinkin' Dark Whiskey
The Steeldrivers (2008)

16. Blackie & The Rodeo Kings - Blackie & The Rodeo King.mp3
FromHigh Or Hurtin’ – The Songs of Willie P. Bennett (1996, out of print)
Their name was taken from Bennett’s 1978 album Blackie and The Rodeo King as a tribute to one of their favourite Canadian folk artists. What started as a side project soon turned into a full fledged band after this first album. BARK is a must see live along with Tom Wilson’s other band, Lee Harvey Osmond.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2007 Repost: My Weekend with Okkervil River

I'm currently in the middle of my five-city, two-week tour of the Eastern and Central US. I don't have a lot of time to write, so I thought I would post some old crap that I wrote before I started My Aimz is True. Going out to Oakville to see Corb Lund last week reminded me of the time back in 2007 when I was completely obsessed with Okkervil River. I saw them in Toronto on Friday, September 21, 2007, and then drove all the way to Hamilton the next night to see them again! Here are my reviews of those two shows which I originally posted on my MySpace page. Remember MySpace? Me neither.


Friday, September 21
Okkervil River
Lee's Palace

First, I would like to acknowledge Okkervil River for pulling me out of my The Hold Steady obsession that lasted roughly from December 2006 to mid-August 2007. When I heard Okkervil River do "The President's Dead" on KEXP while sitting at my desk at work I said, "Whoa, what is this?" Love at first listen. And how often is it that your obsession du jour is playing two shows in your area, and these shows happen to fall on a weekend? The last time I remotely came close to this was last October [2006] when the Drive-By Truckers played back-to-back shows in Toronto and Hamilton, but these shows occurred on weeknights and I completely missed the first gig in Hamilton.

Show numero uno was in Toronto on Friday, September 21, at Lee’s Palace – a venue with a capacity of about 600 people. Unfortunately for the sold-out crowd, Toronto had one of its fall heat/humidity spells that day and the Lee’s Palace air conditioning system did not respond in kind. It was too hot for me to even drink beer as I realized I was pounding Keith’s to cool off. About half-way through the show I even got dizzy and thought I might faint.

But back to the music. I had heard that Okkervil River put on a blistering live show, and they did not disappoint. They got off to a rocky start however, with tuning and sound problems. The sound problems were entirely Lee’s Palace’s fault. From where I was standing (main floor, about ¾ of the way back) lead singer Will Sheff’s microphone was too low and pianist /accordionist /guitarist Jonathan Meiburg’s vocal mic was too high. I wasn’t the only one who noticed this (so it wasn’t my over-heated brain playing tricks on me), as the people around me were commenting on how bad the sound was too.

All that being said, by the time they got to the third song, "No Key, No Plan" from 2005’s Black Sheep Boy Appendix, the place was rocking. I wonder if their slow start was due to a holdup at the border (why do Canadian customs agents do this to every band?). The band’s van died in Illinois so they had to get a rental to get to the rest of their gigs. Sheff even joked (?) that the customs agents were going to jail one band member until they told them where they were hiding the drugs. Which is really hysterical since everyone knows that the best hash and dope are produced in Canada.

Also, the band could not pack all of their equipment in the rental van, so they had to leave a few things behind. Including the accordion. I saw a post Friday on the Okkervil River message boards looking for an accordion, and found this post a little strange, but now I know why! Fortunately, they found a brand-new one with the protective plastic (accordion condom) still on it at a music shop down the street.

The band actually increased with intensity and animation as the show continued. Sheff shed layers of clothes as the heat increased and the band rocked out. I’ve heard a lot of different comments on Sheff’s stage persona (from unbridled enthusiast to pretentious ass-clown). On Friday night he was smiley, affable Will, who seemed to be having tons of fun. No pretense at all.

The only track that I didn’t really dig was "So Come Back, I Am Waiting (Black Sheep Boy II)," which is an incredibly mellow song that felt out of place in this rock show. The crowd was already overheated, drunk, and anxious, and jackasses were heckling during the quiet parts of the song – which actually got Sheff to laugh.

Okkervil River closed with a rousing version of "Westfall," and since I was up front I milled around and waited for the crowd to thin out. The word on the street was that there was an Okkervil River after-party at a nearby club. The house DJ at this club was called "Easy Tiger." Interestingly Ryan Adams was in town doing a show at Massey Hall that same night (so were Devendra Banhart and The Beastie Boys, but obviously, not together). I had mad visions of partying with Okkervil River and Adams, and Mike D showing up to DJ a mix, but alas, the dickhead bouncer wouldn’t let me in. Apparently I fall into the “not cool” category. What a shock.

1. Plus Ones
2. Lady Liberty
3. No Key No Plans
4. The Latest Toughs
5. Girl In Port
6. Song of Our So-Called Friend.mp3
Buy: Black Sheep Boy (2006)
7. A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
8. Unless It's Kicks
9. Black
10. So Come Back, I Am Waiting (Black Sheep Boy II)
11. Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
12. For Real
13. John Allyn Smith Sails

14. The Presidents Dead
15. Okkervil River Song
16. You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man
17. Westfall

Satruday, September 22, 1007
Okkervil River
Pepper Jack Café

I got to the Pepper Jack Cafe a bit late and missed the first part of Damien Jurado's set, but as soon as I walked in the door it was obvious that this night was going to be exactly the opposite as Jurado's performance on Friday night in Toronto. First, the venue was tiny. Tiny to the point that I said, “whoa” out loud when I entered. The capacity was about 150-200 people, and it was not sold out.

Lead singer Will Sheff started the solo opening of "The President's Dead" while the rest of the band slowly joined him on stage. They did not have any of the tuning or sound problems that plagued them in Toronto. And Sheff was more talkative, animated, and smiley as well. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the band had to travel only 45 miles between gigs, and actually got some rest that day.

On the third song, "A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene" from 2007's The Stage Names, Sheff commented that this song was written about a song of his being featured on a TV program. "I was watching the show and thinking that the show would be better without my song in it." I think this is a reference to "Black Sheep Boy" being used on an episode of Cold Case.

This was an all-ages show, which was an odd experience for me. I have lived in Canada for 5.5 years, and I still can't get over seeing 19 year-olds in a bar or club (although, I am still getting carded, so I rock). There was a couple next to me, that seemed to be only a few years older than me, who had brought along their young son to the show (he was maybe 10?). Lots of other youngsters abounded with some of their parents hanging out in back, including one dude who I swear was the long-lost brother of Willie Nelson. Welcome to Hamilton.

I don't know how tall Sheff is, but he is tall enough to reach up and grab the support beam over the Pepper Jack stage. Not only did he use this for balance, but also for playing tambourine. During "Red" from the 2002 release Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See, the rest of the band mouthed along to all of the words. I saw Sparklehorse last year, and, as much as I love Mark Linkos's music, he and the rest of his band (except the drummer) were practically comatose during the show. It was awesome to see Okkervil River getting behind their singer for more than just musical support.

Both "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" and "For Real" featured tight, rockin, extended jam sessions at the end of the songs. After "Westfall," bassist Patrick Pestorius came to the mic and lead everyone is singing Happy Birthday to drummer Travis Nelsen.

For their "encore," the band just stepped to the side of the stage as this small venue didn't have any off-stage area to go to. Sheff immediately came back to the stage and joked about the "charade" of leaving the stage only to come back seconds later. The he started into the "Title Track" from The Stage Names, but cut out half way through saying, "I changed my mind about that song." Then brought Brian Cassidy back onto the stage to play pedal steel and said, "I can’t remember how to play any other song solo."

The fans were fantastic at this show, and I had a fabulous time. I caught a lot of hell from my idiot friends for driving all of the way out to Hamilton to see same band that I saw the previous night, but I would do it again in a second. Okkervil River is worth a double feature and a mini-road trip.

1. The Presidents Dead
2. It Ends With a Fall.mp3
Buy: Down the River of Golden Dreams (2003)
3. A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
4. No Key No Plans
5. The Latest Toughs
6. Girl In Port
7. Plus Ones
8. You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man
9. Unless It's Kicks
10. Black
11. Red
12. Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
13. For Real
14. Westfall

15. Title Track
16. A Stone
17. O, Dana (Big Star Cover)
18. John Allyn Smith Sails
19. Last Love Song for Now

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans, Nov. 2, Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts

I'm spoiled and I know it. Toronto is the New York City of Canada, and every touring band/artist comes through Toronto at least once every few years, sometimes every year (Drive-By Truckers), and sometimes several times a year (Tim Barry). Except for Two Cow Garage, but that's another story. I'm even more spoiled by the fact that I live within stumbling distance and/or a cheap cab ride from all of the major and minor music venues in the city.

Despite living in a killer music city and dwelling in close proximity to the music venues, I've had terrible luck tying to see Corb Lund and his band The Hurtin' Albertans. I've been out of town when they have been here, or something has come up. Last year I tried to see them at the Horseshoe, and I got infectious gastroenteritis and landed myself in the hospital for three days. Not good, but at least I got some morphine out of it. I did catch Corb and the boys at Hillside this past summer, but I really wanted to see them play a full set.

I was pretty excited when it was announced on Lund's web site that they were doing a mini tour of Ontario this fall. But then I became less excited as I realized that there were no Toronto dates, and I would have to drag my sorry ass to the suburbs to see them. Gawd I hate the suburbs. Again, I'm fucking spoiled. The great ones play through the pain, so I sucked it up, battled rush hour outbound traffic, and drove out to charming Oakville, Ontario, to finally see one of my favorite acts play a full set.

As coincidence would have it, Nov. 2 was also my birthday. I hate birthdays. What's more, I really, really hate birthdays that fall on US federal election day. Last time this happened, George W. Stupid was re-elected president. If I had stayed home instead of heading to Oakville, I just would have spent the night throwing empty Budweiser cans at the TV. Furthermore, my parents still think that I am a 19-year-old broke college student, so they always send me a wad of cash for my birthday. So, this concert not only got me out of the house, it was also a birthday present from my folks. Thanks Rockstar Maw and Paw!

The Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts is a roughly 500-seat theatre in the heart of downtown Oakville. Not surprisingly, only about half of it was full when Lund and his band took the stage. They opened with "This is My Prairie," a song off of the wonderful 2009 album Losin' Lately Gambler. This is an environmental song that questions the need for greedy oil companies to be digging up the land the Lund grew up on. Now, here is how our friends at Wikipedia describe Oakville: "The median household [in 2006] income was $83,982 with an average house value of $306,209. Oakville is among the most affluent municipalities in Canada." So when Lund sings, "Take a good look at the stock that you own," the irony that about half of the people in that auditorium probably own oil company stock was not lost on me.

Lund and his band played for nearly two hours, playing a range of fan-favorites from their last four studios albums, plus a few new tracks, plus a few killer covers, with Lund telling stories and goofy quips between several of the songs. Despite the fact that the southern Ontario mini-tour was all in theatre-style venues, Lund commented, "A bar is our natural habitat." What a coincidence! That's my natural habitat too! But there are a few good things about theatre shows: 1) Families can bring their impressionable teenagers to them. 2) There is not some tall irritating drunk guy standing in front of me (although there was an annoying couple making out next to me). 3) The sound is usually better than the in bars. 4) You can actually see the musicians and appreciate their well-honed craft. Per point number four, I could actually see drummer Brady Valgardson switch from sticks to mallets to brushes, and even play marching band style on "I Wanna Be in the Cavalry." Grant Siemens rocked the electric guitar, mandolin, and steel guitar. Sweet Jesus he's good. Kurt Ciesla on upright bass had a few wonderful solos throughout the show.

For most of the night Lund had his black hat pulled low, almost covering his eyes. He dedicated "The West Just Fades Away," a song commissioned by CBC Song Quest, to his father (you can stream about 30 seconds of the song here). He didn't leave his mom out either, dedicating another environmentally-themed song to her, "The Truth Comes Out." He surprised and delighted the hell out of me by covering the Ray Charles/Willie Nelson classic "Seven Spanish Angels." Overall, it was a pretty damn good night of music.

Despite the fact that I would have rather spent my birthday drinking and watching one of my favorite bands in a bar (I was getting a little squirrelly in my seat by the 1.5 hour point), I could not complain about the quality of the entertainment for that evening. The other good thing about theatre shows is that they are over early. Yay Oakville Tuesday nights! I was back home eating cake, drinking bourbon, and throwing things at my TV by the time I usually go out for a show in Toronto.

Set List
1. This is My Prairie
2. I Wanna Be in the Cavalry
3. Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier
4. Student Visas
5. Five Dollar Bill
6. Drink Like You Mean It (? new ?)
7. Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle
8. The Oil's Back In Town
9. Carefree Highway (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
10. Devil's Best Dress
11. The West Just Fades Away
12. Alberta Says Hello
13. (Gonna) Shine Up My Boots
14. Hurtin' Albertan
15. Chinook Wind
16. Long Gone To Saskatchewan
17. The Truth Comes Out
18. Heavy and Leaving.mp3
Buy: Five Dollar Bill (2002)
19. Expectation and the Blues
20. It's Hard To Keep A White Shirt Clean
21. Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer
22. Seven Spanish Angels (Willie Nelson/Ray Charles cover)
23. Time to Switch to Whiskey

24. Little Foothills Heaven.mp3
Buy: Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer (2006)
25. A Game In Town Like This
26. The Rodeo's Over

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Old 97's/Ranchero Brothers News

"So you need to load up on chicken soup & cold meds from now til then. And NO drinking or concerts. Stay away from people. You are the only 37 yr old I know who gets molested by rogue french kissers on the street, influenza laden french kissers at that."
- prescription per my BFF Dr. Mani

Per the above statement, you can elicit that I have terrible flu-like symptoms, which I presumably picked up from a kissing bandit at about 2:30 a.m. last Sat night/Sun morning in downtown Toronto. Never mind the fact that I work in a hospital and am around sick people all day, or that I spent from roughly 4pm to 3am Sat/Sun drinking and standing on ice. Yeah, let's blame this dude. I have to be better by Friday so I can visit Dr. Mani in DC, where I will proceed to drink for another 11 straight hours, and probably catch more germs on the flight. Someday I'll learn.

Since I am out of commission for the next few days, I am actually happy to report that Murry Hammond and Rhett Miller of the Old 97's had to cancel their gig at the El Mocambo tomorrow night. They got a much better offer - a spot on Leno. It looks like it will be a great episode as that masturbation-is-a-sin freak Christine O'Donnell is also on the show.

Roughly two weeks ago the Old 97's released the Too Far to Care demos on their web site. Too Far to Care is one of my Top Five desert island albums, a total alt country classic. The demos are played acoustically by Hammond and Miller, who together, back in the day, played secret live shows as the Ranchero Brothers, mostly to try out new Old 97's material. These demos are quite a treat. There are a few recording glitches in a few of the songs, but otherwise it's a spectacular collection.

To Far to Demo (download them all here)
1. Niteclub
2. Daybed
3. Holy Cross
4. Everybody But Me
5. Visiting Hours
6. Sound of Running
7. Catch Me
8. You Were Right
9. Curtain Calls
10. Timebomb
11. West TX Teardrops
12. Broadway
13. Firefly
14. Barrier Reef
15. The One
16. Salome

In other Old 97's news, they have a new album out called The Grand Theatre, Vol.1, from which they will be playing something on Leno tomorrow night. I'll do a proper review of this album someday, although I am so far behind on my reviews that this may get written-up in 2011.

I completely missed Murry Hammond's solo album from 2008 called I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm on My Way. Hammond, normally the bass player in the Old 97's, plays acoustic guitar, bass, harmonium, and banjo on this album of country, folk, and gospel standards and originals. It's a gorgeous record of slow, wistful, contemplative folk music, in the same vein as A.P. Carter (whom he covers), Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, or Iron & Wine. The production is simple, making this album sound decades older than it actually is. Even the album cover evokes a feeling of classic folk music. Download this album pronto. It appears that the CD is already out of print. There is not a weak track on this record.

I Never Will Marry
Next Time Take the Train
Buy (mp3 only): I Don't Know Where I'm Going but I'm On My Way (2008)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Videos

A few cool videos came across my monitor this week which you need to check out!

How killer is this? And how was I NOT at this show?????

I've had this song stuck in my head for the last month. Watch how furiously Branan beats on his guitar. I thought he was going to snap a string when I saw him back in early Oct. "Karen's Song" will be on his forthcoming album. I actually like Branan live acoustic solo better than his studio albums, which sound too slick for my ears. Also, I wonder if any of the Spanish/Catalan speakers of Barcelona would have even noticed if messed up the verse. I love Barcelona. One of my favorite cities in the world.

Ryan sounds really great here, but his wifey Mandy Moore is no Emmylou Harris.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Concert Review: Social Distortion with Lucero and Frank Turner, October 23, Toronto

There is a serious lack of good, mid-sized music venues in Toronto. The last time I was at the Kool Haus was in 2007 for a Kings of Leon show, back before KOL started sucking. Kool Haus is a big, hollow, characterless venue that has a capacity of about 2500. It takes forever to get a freakin' beer there. But when Frank Turner, Lucero, and Social Distortion are in town, I suck it up and head to the not-so-cool Kool Haus.

I had a hard time getting tickets for this show, but fortunately, I know people who know people, and my main woman Rad Jen got us on the freakin' guest list, meaning I had $50 extra bucks to spend on beer! Rad Jen RULES! So on this rainy, crappy Saturday, October 23, not only did I get to see three killer bands, but I also got to get loaded.

Frank Turner is an up-and-coming folk/punk singer form Winchester, England. I've been following his music for the last year and a half or so. His 2008 album Love Ire & Song is really good. He reminds me of Billy Bragg meets Tim Barry, but he doesn't preach at you like Bragg does, and he isn't as angry as Barry. Turner and his band put on a terrific eight song mini-set that I really enjoyed. His band was fantastic, especially the drummer, who also sang backup. Turner talked about his musical influences such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, and, of course, Social Distortion. He got the small opening crowd to sing along, and screamed, "I love Toronto!" The only thing that I regret is that I did not attend his full set at the Horseshoe the previous evening. When I chatted with him later, he told me that the Horseshoe show was crazy, and that he was still hungover from the previous night. That's my kind of rockstar!

Frank Turner mini-setlist
1. Eulogy to Freddy Mercury
2. Poetry of the Deed.mp3
Buy: Poetry of the Deed (2009)
3. Try This at Home
4. Reasons Not to Be an Idiot
5. I Still Believe
6. Love Ire and Song
7. The Road
8. Photosynthesis

I've been a fan of Lucero for years. As Rad Jen commented, "Lucero is another band who I have watched turn gray." I saw Lucero last year when they were touring with their horn section. For their opening slot for Social D., they traveled with the full band without horns, but with keyboards and pedal steel. With the little time they had, they essentially played a "greatest hits" set which spanned four albums from 2002 to 2009. Lead singer Ben Nichols sounded really good; rumor has it that he just quit smoking, and his voice is better for it. Nichols is one of the more charismatic front men in music today, using the requisite amount of cursing, commenting, "How about Frank motherfuckin' Turner? Goddamn that boy's good!" I love Rick Steff on keyboards. Very few people do rock piano anymore, but Steff excels at it. The piano parts on 2006's Rebels Rogues & Sworn Brothers made the album for me. Steff played the horn parts of the newer tunes on the keyboards ("Devil and Maggie," "Goodbye Again"), which gave the songs an unusual, but not unpleasant, twist. Todd Beene (who also plays in Glossary, another killer band) on pedal steel really makes the band. I was chatting with Nichols later and I told him that his next album needs more pedal steel. He replied, "I completely agree." In a recent video on Spin's website Nichol's commented that he would like to do an acoustic album. How sweet would a Lucero acoustic album be? Especially if it was full of steel guitars.

Lucero mini-setlist
1. The Devil And Maggie Chascarillo
2. Nights Like These
3. Bikeriders
4. Slow Dancing
5. Tonight Ain't Gonna be Good
6. Kiss the Bottle (Jawbreaker cover)
7. Goodbye Again.mp3
Buy: 1372 Overton Park (2009)
8. Raising Hell
9. Last Night in Town
10. Nobody's Darlins
11. Tears Don't Matter Much

By the time Social Distortion took the stage, Kool Haus was packed to the gills. Rad Jen and I were way up front for Frank Turner and Lucero, but we moved to the back for Social D., lest we get our asses kicked by the serious punk rockers. The downside of being in back is that I had to put my glasses on so I could see the stage (I'm old and vain). The upside is that we got to watch security haul out the wasted sluts! Not that we weren't wasted, but we seasoned drinkers can at least hold our liquor.

Social D. did everything you expected them to do, and even introduced a few new songs from their forthcoming album Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes which is scheduled to be released in January 2011. One new track called "Bakersfield" is essentially about the fact that Bakersfield, California, sucks. They also did a "greatest hits" style of set, including songs from the late 80s/early 90s which I listened to when I was in high school. My favorite Social D. song, "Ball and Chain," was played fairly slowly, which made it sound not so good to me. And it didn't seem that way just because I was drunk. The reviewer at Chartattack verified this observation, although he was more enthusiastic about the song (and the show) than I was. Most of the audience was there to see Social D., and Social D. was very well received and whipped the audience into an rock and roll frenzy and so on, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the two opening acts more so than the headliner. Even in my beer-induced haze, Social D. was rather predictable. Maybe I would have liked the show more if Social D. had played at a venue besides the Kool Haus.

Social Distortion Set List
1. The Creeps
2. Another State Of Mind
3. Mommy's Little Monster.mp3
Buy: Mommy's Little Monster (1989)
4. Sick Boys
5. Don't Drag Me Down
6. I Was Wrong
7. Bye Bye Baby
8. Still Alive
9. Ball and Chain
10. Through These Eyes
11. Bakersfield
12. King of Fools
13. When She Begins
14. Making Believe (Jimmy Work cover)

15. So Far Away
16. Prison Bound.mp3
Buy: Prison Bound (1988)
17. Down Here (With the Rest of Us)
18. Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash cover)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post Election Hangover

"You wait for change, change, change, change, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait. What do we need to do? We need to be proactive. If you feel like fucking voting, then vote. Then go home and take care of your family, your kin, your group, your community, and your fucking whole neighborhood. That's how we make change, change, change, change, change. We care the fuck about each other. And not constantly sitting the fuck around waiting for other people to take care of us!"

Tim Barry - Avoiding Catatonic Surrender.mp3
Buy: Rivanna Junction (2006)

Here's another good one from Scott Miller. It's off of Appalachian Refugee, a set of demos that was released just before his excellent 2008 album For Crying Out Loud.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Erection Day!

A few weeks ago I was chatting with my buddy Jimmy about the Toronto mayoral elections, and he said, "Remember that movie Brewster's Millions? I want to vote for 'none of the above.'" The basic plot of this movie is that the Richard Pryor character Montgomery Brewster has 30 days to spend $30 million, and if he can do it, he will win $300 million. So in order to blow as much money as possible, Brewster decides to stage a "none of the above" protest campaign for the New York City mayor's seat. I kind of feel the same way about the US mid-term Senate and Congressional elections. The Republicans are bat-shit crazy and the Democrats are total pansies, and both parties are in bed with big money lobbyists and rich corporate assholes. They all disgust me.

"Republicans. That's what scares people these days. That, and Democrats." - Todd Snider

From: Patterson Hood and Todd Snider, Live At The Georgia Theatre (July 10, 2003)

"And all them politicians, they all lyin' sacks of shit. They say better days upon us but I'm sucking left hind tit." - Drive-By Truckers

Puttin' People on the Moon.mp3
Buy: Live from Austin Texas (2009, CD/DVD)

This is my new favorite song: "I'm a liar, a cheater, a fraud. I'm a weasel, a buzzard, a dog. I'm always your friend but I'm always for sale. I'm a skunk so don't get too close to my tail." - Trigger & Some Dudes Named Roy

Buy: Cowboy Logic (2010)

I'm Rockstar Aimz and I approve this message.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November: Guitar Month

I am declaring November to be Guitar Month! Mainly because I bought myself a guitar as a birthday present to myself last year, and I still can't play the damn thing. I will spend November building upon the three chords that I already know. My friends in Toronto, please consider buying earplugs.

Let's get Guitar Month started with a free live mix from Suburban Home Records!

Download here.

Track List:
1. Austin Lucas - Somebody Loves You
2. Michal Schnabel - Bury the Maps
3. Tim Barry - Bozeman
4. I Can Lick and Sonofabitch in the House - Swear to God
5. Chad Price - This War
6. Lizzie Huffman - Heavy Hearts.mp3
7. Jon Snodgrass - Fire and Flood (with Two Cow Garage)
8. Rob Coe - High and Outside
9. The Gamits - Love Suicidal
10. Two Cow Garage - Glass City
11. Drag the River - Medicine
12. Tim Barry - This November
13. Chad Price - Your Voice is Music
14. I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House - Westboro Baptist Church.mp3 (with Two Cow Garage)
15. Austin Lucas - Man Alive
16. Drag the River - Losing Everyone
17. Jon Snodgrass - Mexican Song
18. The Gamits - Never Before Noon
19. Rob Coe - All This and More (Dead Boys cover)
20. Michal Schnabel - Stupid Kid (Alkaline Trio cover)
21. Lizzie Huffman - Oh My Sweet Carolina (Ryan Adams cover)
22. Two Cow Garage - Ohio (Neil Young)