Searching For Bob Dylan – In Lethbridge Alberta

And the tour continues! Bob Dylan has a new record coming out in the next few days, on September 11, 2012, which is an anniversary of sorts on more than one front. He released his celebrated latter-day gem Love & Theft on that same date eleven years ago. And on that day, North America and the world changed forever, although not because of Dylan’s record.

And since then, Dylan has continued the tour that began in the late 1980s, a string of dates that has often sent the grizzled troubadour into some off-the-rock-promotor’s-map locations. Our roving reporter Geoff Moore was at one of those shows recently in the other L.A, Lethbridge Alberta.

And what did Geoff find there? Would it be possible to catch Dylan in the hotel bar after the  show, rubbing elbows with the salt of the earth, and thereby with our Geoff, too?

Well, read on, dear readers …

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Classic Rock: And the Brand Played On and On

This is a special treat for me, and the first in a series of guest blog posts from music writers I know and admire.  I’ve asked a few of my writer friends to submit some of their scribblings to this humble Delete Bin.  And some of them have agreed to do so.  In this case, Geoff Moore of Calgary Alberta, a novelist, music fan, and Montreal Canadiens nut, talks here about the milking of legacies in rock.  What happens when rock bands become rock brands?  Lots of things …

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Rock ‘n’ roll’s pushing 60 if you date its birth from March 3rd or 5th, 1951 when Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm cut ‘Rocket 88′ in Sam Phillips’ Memphis recording studio under the guise of Jackie Brensten and his Delta Cats. That culture-quaking distortion ripping through your speaker grille comes from a guitar plugged into an amp that had been damaged en route to Sun, somewhere out on Highway 61. Born to be wild maybe, but time manages to tame most of us.

Most rockers didn’t live fast, die young and leave beautiful corpses. No, legions of rock bands have soldiered on, advancing well beyond their best-before dates in ragged columns to the beat of their current drummers. Some have even returned from the dead, or hiatus. Some have been cloned. And some, God help them (and you if you bought a ticket), some are like demented zombies, they just won’t quit. ‘I hope I die before I get old.’ Pete Townshend wrote it and Roger Daltry spat it out, but it didn’t happen. Not to them anyway. They’re older than rock itself.

The Who is a duo by virtue of attrition however and many wholigans maintain they’re simply not the Who without Keith Moon and John Entwhistle. But when Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry do perform or record together the result is unmistakably Whooey. Because of this, it seems fair that the pair continue to leverage the band’s name and all the mod pop art iconography associated with it on their souvenir merchandise.

The outfit has been able to maintain its identity with a shred or two of integrity intact and still possesses enough cachet with music audiences that they’re able to work if the mood strikes Pete or Roger needs the money. There have already been umpteen farewell tours and at one point Townshend even retired from music to work for a book publisher. It seems odd to contemplate life without the on again/off again, phasing, battling existence of the the Who in some form or another. They remain a constant for fans of a certain age, something that was and somehow always will be.

But as fans of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd and Genesis will sigh to you, they can’t last forever. Or can they? Amazingly, despite death or disbandment, you can still pay good money for a live performance of a Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd or Genesis show thanks to a hereto unforeseen back-catalogue marketing asset: the tribute band. They attract our sons and daughters who came of age listening to our old records. They attract some of us for various reasons, curiosity or nostalgia perhaps, or maybe it’s the sheer exhilaration provided by beloved music that’s not Memorex.

Some of these acts merely studiously replay the original material as recorded while others add an element of theatre and recreate their meal tickets both visually and sonically. Layers of disbelief must be suspended as that fellow up on stage in the dress and the fox mask is playing Peter Gabriel playing a character. A through the looking-glass choreographed illusion. It’s A Kinda Magic painstakingly recreates specific Queen tours – set lists, costumes, props – you name it. Endorsed by Freddie Mercury’s personal assistant! gush their newspaper ads.

You have to assume a neophyte would come away with a good sense of the spectacle that was Queen and that a lifelong fan could have some hazy, pot-marred memories enhanced by the performance. It looks like Queen, sounds like Queen and even acts like Queen. But it’s not Queen. (Off topic but related: do tribute acts have their own, sort of, tribute groupies? And what of a performer’s ego, would it be, say, Zeppelin-sized? Questions best left to ponder on another day.) Things get down-the-rabbit-hole weird and maybe a little sleazier in that murky no band’s land somewhere between the resurrected Who and It’s A Kinda Magic.

When does a band cease being itself and mutate into something akin to its own tribute band? A brand, if you will. Or simply a rip-off. Thin Lizzy came through Calgary (AB) a couple of years ago – sort of. The newspaper ad featured a close approximation of the band’s familiar logo only, nothing else, no photos, no names. Phil Lynott, the band’s creative force, passed away in 1986. When the Thin Lizzy broke up in 1984 Lynott and drummer Brian Downey were sole remaining original members. The list of former Thin Lizzies is almost as long as the Montreal Canadiens’ all-time roster.

The group that put on a concert here was led by one John Sykes who joined Thin Lizzy in 1982. According to thinlizzy.org, the band’s ‘official’ web site, Thin Lizzy’s final performance took place in Germany in 1983. The existence of John Sykes’s Thin Lizzy is not ‘officially’ acknowledged, like black ops and cabinet-sanctioned wet work.

The Yardbirds played an Edmonton (AB) area casino this past winter. Singer Keith Relf has been dead as long as he lived, 33 years. As for Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page – whatever happened to those guys?. Shelling out to see rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty will only guarantee you one thing, the backing vocals on their version of ‘Heart Full of Soul’ will sound authentic. You’re not getting the Yardbirds, you’re getting a couple of former Yardbirds (the ‘other’ guys in the group’s 60s promotional photos) who call themselves the Yardbirds covering the Yardbirds.

Wonder how the new material goes over (even the Who had trouble selling Endless Wire to its middle-aged audiences)? Beware Mike Love this summer, state fair aficionados and rural casino habitues. The ticket reads Beach Boys but only one guy up on that stage actually sang on every track included on that new compilation you purchased last week at Wal-Mart. Enjoy the last original Beach Boy in his dotage. Funny, he probably hasn’t changed his stage wardrobe in 45 years and went from California teen to retired Arizona snowbird in no moves. Hawaiian shirts get old fast.

Nothing’s as it was or as it seems. Enjoy the show. Caveat emptor.

Geoff Moore is the author of Murder Incorporated, a novel about the advertising industry. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.

The Submarines Sing “Swimming Pool”

Here’s a clip of effervescent California popsters the Submarines with a slab of sonic sunshine, “Swimming Pool”,  as taken from their 2008 Honeysuckle Weeks album.  I saw this band only yesterday.  And I now have a crush on lead singer Blake Hazard.  Too bad for me she’s married to guitarist John Dragonetti.

I found this band not through the usual channel – which is the iPhone commercial that featured their earlier sing “You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie” – but rather through a fellow Vancouver blogger Miss604, who posted that they were playing the very well-hidden, although extremely cool,  Biltmore Cabaret.  Upon hearing the clips here, I resolved two things:

  1. To go to the show
  2. To go to other shows more regularly, as put on by mostly niche bands who haven’t gained the traction it takes to stop playing little clubs, which therefore means you’re standing a few feet from them as opposed to watching them on a Jumbotron.

The performance of the Submarines was preceded by two other bands of merit.  First, the Mumblers who are from Seattle.  They are a kind of shoe-gazing Old-style R&B band, with a full-on brass section made up up trumpets, a euphonium, a french horn, a sax, and an English horn, all swapped between three guys.  Their material is a sort of early 60s R&B, with a bit of New Orleans trad, as filtered through an indie guitar group.  Did you get that?

The second band was the very good The Morning Benders, led by an impossibly skinny and bowl-cut rocking frontman of some considerable vocal skill and stage charisma.  The band delivered a number of British Invasion references that make me think that there are more bands than the Shins trying to corner the market on this kind of sound.  Live, these guys were dynamic, with an attack which was a bit more feral than that of their album, Talking Through Tin Cans which has pop charms of its own .

But, the headliners The Submarines were the apex of the program, a full-on guitar-pop extravaganza as led by a duo and their dutiful drummer manservant.  Their show was an excercise in pop craftsmanship, bubbly-stage banter from Hazard, and an economical use of technology – guitars, loops, and even some one-handed mallet percussion – that made more from less.  Blake Hazard’s impressions of Vancouver centred around our friendliness as a city, noting that even the ‘fuck you’ graffiti on the wall in the bathroom was accompanied by an ‘have it your way’, which she labeled as ‘the Burger King of Fuck Yous’.

Still, the band seemed genuinely appreciative of us as an audience, and launched into each number, including this one, with verve, a sense of playfulness, and with incredible, undeniable personality.

To hear more from the Submarines, check out the Submarines MySpace Page.

Enjoy!

Going to a Show ? Consider Your Gig Etiquette

Concert CrowdIn discussion with some of my music-geek colleagues about the important issue of gig-etiquette, here’s a top ten list of the people that you don’t want to be when at a gig.

(image courtesy of psylight)

1. The Cellphone Talker – “I’m at a cool gig and I’m loudly bragging about it at the expense of people who are trying to watch the show!”

2. The Drunken Tupperware Party. This is a group of loud-talking people at a table who ignore the act on stage in favour of banal conversation and gales of screechy, inebriated guffawing. Thanks to my colleague and gig veteran in New York City who coined the term.

3. The Elbower. This is the person who pushes his way past you without so much as an ‘excuse me’ to get to the front, to the bar, to the bathrooms, to wherever.

4. The Bath/Breath Mint Aversionist. In a crowded space, need I elaborate?

5. The Flailer. By all means, dance! Dance like you’ve never danced before in an Flashdance stylee! But know that you’re not the only person in the room and proceed accordingly. I don’t want my nose on the other side of my face due to a wayward “dance move”.

6. The American/Canadian/Whatever Idol. As above, feel encouraged to sing along. Just don’t do it in my ear when no one else is singing. All night. Off-key. Using the wrong words.

7. The Stand-up/Sit-Down Merchant. If you push past me too many times, I get to give your seat to someone else when you’ve got up and shoved past me for the tenth frickin’ time (tenth if you’re lucky…). I feel that’s fair.

8. The Request Shouter (aka ‘Free Bird’). Has any act you’ve gone to see actually stopped the song they’re playing or ceased their on stage banter to say: “Hey, person-who’s-just-shouted-out in the middle of my set, that’s a great idea! I will play “Free Bird” even though I’m a writer with my own material and don’t happen to be Lynyrd Skynyrd”? No? That’s never happened? Hmm. What does that tell you?

9. The Heckler. You’re not funny. You’re not witty. You’re nothing. Shut up.

10. The Bootlegger. This is a touchy subject. Some bands encourage bootleggers and actually have a space for them to set up. If you haven’t been assigned a spot in this area, or worse – there is no area – setting a camera on your shoulder mid-way up the row to effectively block the view is not cool. If I were not a man of peace, I’d say that it borders on being a punchable offence.

And these are of course only a few. I encourage you to share your own rogue’s gallery of gig-etiquette criminals. Tall guys (having faced the Gig Dwarf’s cry of “I can’t see around you!”), short people (having equally faced the Oblivious Tall Guy), and women who have been touched up (by The Surreptitious Groper), are particularly encouraged to contribute.

Badly Drawn Boy Takes A Phone Call

Badly Drawn BoyDamon Gough AKA Badly Drawn Boy provided me with a memorable show in 2000, but for more than the most obvious reasons.

In the summer of 2000, the name Badly Drawn Boy was just one I’d heard of, not one from whom I’d actually heard. At that time, Gough had been the centre of a buzz surrounding a number of EPs he’d put out under the BDB name on the Twisted Nerve label. Since I had somehow got a hold of this buzz through some music paper or other (probably MOJO), and subsequently found myself at the Glastonbury Festival that year, I decided to adjourn to the “New Bands” tent, and see this Badly Drawn Boy for myself.

I have to say, that I was impressed overall. It was clear the guy had (and has) talent. But, his sense of showmanship was non-existent in any traditional way. And this is not to say that it wasn’t entertaining. He would start a song – like the upbeat and joyous ‘Once Around the Block’ (see link below) – and the crowd, who knew his stuff, would go nuts. Then, he’d stop completely and say, “ah, you like that one, do you?”. But, then went onto to something else. I guess it should have been frustrating. But, because I didn’t know a note of the guy’s music, I was intrigued.

Black rotary phoneThe pinnacle of the show had to be when he stopped a song to answer his phone. I am not talking about a cell phone here, people. I am referring to one of those big, black, rotary-dial table phones popular in the 70s and 80s. It was a Jim Rockford phone. And it was on stage in full view of the audience. I’m not even sure I noticed it to start with, although I can’t believe I didn’t.

Anyway, it rang. Loudly. A few times. So, he stopped the tune he was playing and answered it.

It was his Mum.

He had to explain to her that he was currently on stage and didn’t have time to talk because he was playing Glastonbury. It was pretty odd. But, funny as hell. It couldn’t have been his Mum. It couldn’t have been anyone. We were in a field!

At the end of the show, he told us that his record was coming out at the end of the summer, and that we should buy it because he “needs the money”. Fair enough, I thought. And I did buy his record – The Hour of Bewilderbeast – which remains to be one of my favourite albums of all time. I’ll bore everyone with my thoughts on it another time. And he went onto to have a pretty great career, even scoring a movie starring Hugh Grant, About A Boy, the soundtrack of which is also a great little record.

I don’t know whether I should have felt ripped off. But, I didn’t. Maybe if he’d pulled it when I’d paid specifically to see him, I might have. But as it happened , he was playing the new bands tent, and I suppose he knew he’d have nothing to lose by playing it (very, very) casually to a members of the crowd who could see whoever else was playing if they wanted to get their “money’s worth”.

Having said that, I heard his headlining shows in the years immediately following my show had a similar feel, and that some did feel a bit ripped off by his lackadaisical approach to showmanship. But, I’d like to think that if his Mum were to call again, she’d make sure that it wasn’t when her son was playing the Hollywood Bowl.

Still, you never know. A mother worries.

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Here’s some footage of Badly Drawn Boy performing his ‘Once Around the Block’ as I might have heard it, but without the interruption this time.

Hover over the image and click the ‘play’ icon. To enlarge the viewing window, click the magnifying glass icon.

Badly Drawn Boy in Performance

Enjoy!

Fiona Apple Sings ‘I Want You’ with Elvis Costello

Here’s a clip of indie chanteuse Fiona Apple performing Elvis Costello’s 1986 single ‘I Want You’ ( the original found on the Nick Lowe-produced Blood & Chocolate album, if you’re curious).

I saw Costello perform this once in London’s Astoria in 2002, which was a pleasant surprise as it’s not one I’d heard him do it before, or since. It was magnificent; atmospheric, and very unsettling. I think Apple nails it to the wall here too. She embodies the song, and you can tell it takes it out of her by the end; note the blowing out of air, and the exhausted look on her face.

This tune is probably one of the most dramatic, not to mention disturbing, songs Costello has ever written, just because it catches the listener off guard so skillfully. It starts as a sweet love song, but after a few lines turns much, much darker.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Live Music Notes

I’m not sure why, but lately going to gigs has left me a bit cold. I saw some great acts while living in Britain for the past six years – Gomez, Macy Gray, Orbital, Elvis Costello, Pulp, et al. But the venues in London I went to were all standing only gigs, always oversold and always (as a result) too crowded. Getting to the bar was a major undertaking, and I always got the really tall guy standing right in front of me through out. Of course, this doesn’t include the people who find it necessary to have meaningless conversations, and/or to sing along badly, right in your ear while the band is playing. There have times, despite the fact that I really love live music, when I prayed for the end of a show just so I could get the hell out of there.

Last night, the wife and I went out on the town to see one of my favourite electronica outfits, Royksopp. I really love their record “Melody AM”, and I had heard that they put on a really good show. The gig was at the Commodore Ballroom, a palace of a venue in Vancouver, which has always been a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the venues I’d been to in London. It should have been better than it was for me. It wasn’t the band’s fault I don’t think – they were very exuberant on stage and they played their song “Eple” which I love, among others. My wife and I danced a bit, after having had drinks delivered (!) to our table (!!). There were no obnoxious conversationalists within earshot (although there was when we went to see Wilco there in the summer…), and we could see the stage and the band clearly.

But there was something missing. I have had this feeling before and I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe it was that my wife was not enjoying the show as much as I was, and this made for a less spectacular time for me in the end (I’m the music fan in the family). The sound was a bit muddy too, so some of the subtleties of the record were lost – I suppose this happens at every gig to some extent. But I left feeling vaguely dissatisfied, as if I had come in late and missed part of the show. The frustrating part is that I do not have the reasons I might have had when going to gigs in London. The Commodore is great.

Still, despite all of this, when I am in the financial position to do so, I must resolve to go to more gigs. Being in school at the moment, money is not exactly hanging out of my pockets and I suppose money worries come to the surface when you’re out having frivolous times. Maybe that has something to do with it. I think going to more shows may be the answer in defiance of this vague dissatisfaction. It’s the rock n roll thing to do!