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Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Lost Together

This past year has been a kind of crazy musical wayback machine for me, what with seeing live so many of the bands that were crucial to developing my tastes back in my salad days. What with shows from Sloan and the reunited Buffalo Tom earlier this year and just this past month, an epic Neil Young show and the final Lowest Of The Low gig. If nothing else, it’s confirmed that I had some pretty kick-ass taste for a 17-year old.

Capping it all off was Monday night’s super-intimate show from Toronto roots-rock stalwarts Blue Rodeo at the Horseshoe as part of the bar’s 60th anniversary. To give you a sense of scale, the ‘Shoe holds around 350 and Blue Rodeo have two nights booked at the 2750-capacity Massey Hall for next February. That’s how big this band and small the club is. So yeah, it was pretty packed.

But before I get into the gig review, the obligatory personal content paragraph. I was actually surprised to find I’d covered some of this over four years ago but I’ll recap the key points – they were my first big rock show and the setting for the formation of my first band in high school (to the roar of them covering Neil’s “Like A Hurricane”, I might add) and we covered a number of Blue Rodeo songs during our short run and were probably our best tunes. In short, they were huge for me for a good long while though I gradually lost touch with them around the turn of the century. They seemed to have settled into a musical comfort zone and didn’t seem to be offering much on their new records that I couldn’t get from the eight or so already in my collection.

But considering I hadn’t seen them live since that pivotal June evening back in 1993 and a gig at the ‘Shoe was far more my speed than their usual amphitheatre-scale venues, there was more than a little anticipation on my part for this show. The format for the evening was to be no opener and three sets from the band – a marathon by anyone’s standards. They were also calling it an “’80s Throwback” show, in reference to the days when Blue Rodeo were the kings of Queen St and spent many a night plying their trade on the Horseshoe stage and which boded well for me since I don’t know hardly any of their more recent material.

And sure enough, after opening with a track from their latest album Small Miracles (which is pretty much Blue Rodeo by numbers which is good or bad depending on your POV) , they went right into “Diamond Mine” and yeah – I knew I was going to enjoy this. All the albums I knew by heart – Outskirts, Diamond Mine, Casino, Lost Together and Five Days In July – were well represented and they even drew on one of my personal faves though less highly regarded records, Nowhere To Here. 1997’s Tremolo seemed to be completely overlooked, though, which is a shame since it’s the last of their albums I spent any real time with and I’ve always been fond of it.

I don’t know how far they delve into their back catalog when playing regular shows, but from the reaction of the crowd to some of the older material I’d guess it’s not nearly as deeply as they did on Monday. In fact, it seemed the band – which had a couple of relatively new members in steel guitarist Bob Egan (ex-Wilco) and keyboardist Bob Packwood and when the band agreed to play “Rebel” from Outskirts – a request that came with a $1000 donation to the local food bank to which all proceeds on the night, over $10,000 total, were going – it was fun to watch original members Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and Bazil Donovan show the new guys the chord changes. Special guests were also on hand for the occasion. Dallas and Travis Good from The Sadies – without their suits, no less – and local singer-songwriters Luke Doucet and Justin Rutledge all sat in for a few numbers, playing both their own songs and Blue Rodeo’s all coming onstage at the finale for “Lost Together”.

You’d expect a band that’s been at it as long as they have to have their act together and Blue Rodeo delivered the goods with gusto and polish. Cuddy and Keelor’s voices sound as smooth and gravelly, respectively, as they did over 20 years ago – maybe moreso – and still go together in perfect harmony. Similarly, the songwriting recipe of weepers from Cuddy, rockers from Keelor and country-pop gems from both is as effective as ever. If there was a complaint, it’s that the band was too polished. On more than a few instances, songs were dragged into jam band territory with solos that were unnecessary at best, unpleasant at worst. Keyboardist Bob Packwood was the worst offender with his excess of notes and keyboard face (like guitar face but worse) but even bassist Bazil Donovan, who used to be the very epitome of the solid, non-flashy player, took a few solos that only served to remind why there is never a need for a bass solo. The band, whomever has been in it, has never had a shortage of musical prowess on tap but it’s always been about the songs. Maybe when you’ve been playing the same songs for so many years, this is how you keep things interesting but I for one found it unnecessary.

But that’s one negative against an evening full of positives. It was great to get to see my one-time musical heroes live for the first time in thirteen years and still be as swept up in the music as I was way back when. All told – three sets (with predetermined setlists which were pretty much ignored wholesale) and an encore – the band played for over three hours and there’s something to be said for staggering out into the cold December night all sweaty-like and warm with nostalgia.

CityTV has a quick video interview with Jim Cuddy and some video footage from the show and The Globe & Mail reveals why Stompin’ Tom wasn’t one of the guests.

Photos: Blue Rodeo @ The Horseshoe – December 17, 2007
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Five Days In May”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Lost Together”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Til I Am Myself Again”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Diamond Mine”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Trust Yourself”
MySpace: Blue Rodeo

Of course, if this year had really been about me reliving my high school days, I’d have found the opportunity to see R.E.M.… though I don’t feel especially bad that I didn’t. Hmm. Spinner reports that Stipey announced their new album as coming out on April 1. Yeah. It’s a Tuesday. Could be legit.

Spinner Interfaces with Film School.

Wireless Bollinger talks to Juanita Stein of Howling Bells. She also gives Gridskipper a list of a half-dozen things she hates about Sydney, Australia. It’s okay, she’s from there. She’s allowed to complain.

FilterTV offers up a video interview with Nicole Atkins and talk Hallowe’en, hot dogs and The Lost Boys. She’s at Lee’s Palace on February 17.

Shows – Au Revoir Simone say bonjour Lee’s Palace on January 16, Sia is at the Mod Club on March 2 and on April 16, the Horseshoe plays host to Kelley Stoltz and The Dirtbombs.

Monday, December 10th, 2007

The Horseshoe

All of the local media articles commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Horseshoe Tavern (officially celebrating its birthday yesterday) have run off a list of the unforgettable shows that have earned the Queen West institution its adjective “Legendary” – Golden Smog, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Rolling Stones”, to name a few. And while I’ve seen my share of great shows there over the years – hell, over the past week – the venue’s own birthday party on Thursday night was one for the ages.

Though the performers were kept secret when the invite-only party was announced, it got out pretty quickly that it was going to be Chicagoan country-rock shitkickers The Waco Brothers – an outfit beloved by the Horseshoe owners – and the closest thing the ‘Shoe has to a house band, Toronto’s own Sadies. And, of course, where go The Sadies, special guests are sure to follow.

And follow they did. Their set could well have been released as the follow-up to their In Concert: Volume One live set as they called friends and family onstage to play with them including the Good brothers’ parents, Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor, The Skydiggers’ Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson, Waco Brothers (from different mothers) Jon Langford and Tracy Dear – all of whom came as no huge surprise – and one who did: The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie. I wouldn’t say I’ve been any sort of Hip fan for over a decade but there’s no denying the band – and especially their frontman – hold a special place in Canadiana so you could feel the energy levels in the bar, already well into the red, soar when he bounded onstage.

In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have been a shock to see him – he had played with the Sadies just last month in a performance for CBC’s Fuse and here they reprised some of that set, opening with “Fire In The Hole” from 1994’s Day For Night and closing with an absolutely searing cover of The Stooges’ “Search And Destroy” (a reasonable-quality video of which you cans see below). Maybe it’s been a while since Downie’s played a stage as small and intimate as this one but he absolutely tore it up. It’s not often that it’s the audience that needs to take a breath after a performance while the band just won’t stop.

Calling The Sadies a tough act to follow is the very definition of understatement, but the Waco Brothers are no slouches in owning a stage. I was only minimally familiar with the Wacos before this night – basically I knew who they were and what they did, on paper anyways – but thankfully there’s not that much to get. If you can appreciate the magic of country and old-school rock’n’roll welded together by sweat and margaritas, you can appreciate the Waco Brothers. With an all-request set list made up of originals and covers, they were the perfect band to play a birthday party for a bar with the musical pedigree that the ‘Shoe has. I had to bail at 1AM but have no doubt they kept their word to keep the music and beer flowing till 2AM.

Happy 60th, Horseshoe.

Glide and The Vancouver Sun have interviews with The Sadies, who will once again be at the Horseshoe for their annual New Years Eve celebrations. And the final show of the Horseshoe’s 60th anniversary celebrations, scheduled for next Monday December 17, is set to be announced today. I’ve already basically told you who it is, but when the official word is out I’ll update accordingly.

Photos: The Waco Brothers, The Sadies @ The Horseshoe – December 6, 2007
MP3: The Sadies – “The Horseshoe”
Video: The Sadies – “The Horseshoe”
Video: Gord Downie with The Sadies – “Search & Destroy” (live at the Horseshoe)
MySpace: The Waco Brothers
MySpace: The Sadies

And after a pretty packed week of ‘Shoe shows, I capped things off with Jose Gonzalez’s in-store at Sonic Boom on Friday evening. I’ve no doubt his show that same night at the Mod Club was good but I found the intimate atmosphere of the in-store, with its wood-paneled rec room vibe and polite and attentive audience, to be the perfect setting for Gonzalez. Cross-legged on the floor is the right way to enjoy his music, which was hypnotically lovely over his short set.

JAM! and The New York Daily News have conversations with Gonzalez about the political and religious undertones of his music.

Photos: Jose Gonzalez @ Sonic Boom – December 7, 2007
MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop” (live)
MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Crosses”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Down The Line”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Killing For Love”
MySpace: Jose Gonzalez

Spinner interfaces with Jens Lekman

CMJ talks a bit to The Acorn’s Rolf Klausener about Glory Hope Mountain, which is set for a US release on March 4 of next year and will apparently feature a bonus track, presumably not tied into the narrative thread of the rest of the record.

The New Pollution features Plants & Animals, in town Friday at the Mod Club opening for Patrick Watson. Their debut full-length Parc Avenue is out March 25 and you can check out an MP3 from said record below.

MP3: Plants & Animals – “Faerie Dance”

Win Butler of The Arcade Fire tells The Australian that getting hit in the head with a shoe can really put a damper on one’s evening.

Stay Thirsty gives Feist some travel tips for Japan.
Losing Today talks to Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy, along with Laura Barrett and The Blankket, will be performing at the Gladstone on January 9 as part of a release party for Carl Wilson’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series of books, the much-anticipated tome Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste. And yes, all the performers will be doing Celine covers. Of course. The book is out this week.

Crawdaddy talks to author Jim Walsh about his book The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History.

The Boston Herald chats with The Fiery Furnaces, in town at Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night.

Jonathan Richman will be in town February 28 for a show at the Phoenix – quite a step up from his usual digs at the Lula Lounge. Update: Never mind – Pollstar was wrong, Jonathan Rice opening for Matt Costa, which is more logical but less interesting.

The new Harold and Kumar film has a new title – Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay – and a new, decidedly non-PG trailer. It’s in theatres April 28.

Trailer: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Oh, Dead Life

I’d have been remiss if I didn’t follow up Thursday’s post, exhorting y’all to go see Dog Day at the Drake Underground on Saturday night, by showing up myself. So between other engagements I popped by the Drake to catch their compact set.

Considering the band had been on tour since mid-September with only a week off, I expected them to a) be really tight and b) be really tired. Two for two. Well, the former was obvious as the punched through material from Night Group quickly, efficiently and proficiently while evidencing some Pavement-y and early Built To Spill-y influences that weren’t as obvious from the record.

To the latter point, I can only speculate based on the fact that the band have been living out of a van and criss-crossing the continent for six weeks. But whatever the reason, Dog Day’s performance evidenced a good deal of concentration if not intensity, letting the strength of the songs carry the show rather than their stage presence. Of course, it could be that that’s how they are even after a week of bed rest and three squares a day – their deadpan demeanour is part of the charm of the album, I suppose it makes sense that it’d carry over to their live show. So this past paragraph? Never mind.

Either way, they crammed a lot into their barely-40 minute set and even if the opening of “Lydia” didn’t come off quite as apocalyptically heavy as I’d hoped, it mainly reminded me how good a record Night Group is (not that I necessarily needed reminding having listened to it incessantly last week). And they were done in time for me to make it to a friend’s party at exactly the stroke of fashionably late. That’s what we call a good night.

Photos: Dog Day @ The Drake Underground – December 1, 2007
MP3: Dog Day – “Oh Dead Life”
MP3: Dog Day – “Use Your Powers”
Video: Dog Day – “Oh Dead Life” (Blip)
Video: Dog Day – “Lydia” (YouTube)
MySpace: Dog Day

Kevin Drew discusses the state of Broken Social and his solo works with The Montreal Gazette. Drew and his crew are at the Kool Haus on Saturday night.

Reveille offers up video (and transcript) of an interview with Stars’ Torquill Campbell and Pat McGee as well as live footage of the band performing in Minneapolis last month. NPR has an interview and session available to stream.

Chart talks extensively with Rolf Klausener of The Acorn about the process of making Glory Hope Mountain.

Thom Yorke talks to The Sydney Morning Herald about Radiohead’s decision to release In Rainbows online, PWYC and in the process become a verb (and an annoying one). In Rainbows is out in shiny, plasticy physical form on January 1 though those of you who splurged for that fancy-pants box set version should be getting yours right about now. Which means, of course, another four billion blog posts from people reviewing and dissecting every bonus track contained therein. Whee.

The Toronto Star has a nice feature celebrating the 60th anniversary of The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern. The Toronto institution officially turns 60 next Sunday but the festivities start up this week beginning with a free show from the Lowest Of The Low tomorrow night and carrying on through the rest of December. This first week, in particular, is going to be more than a little nuts – if anyone’s looking for me, just check the ‘Shoe. And writeups of the events may be a little slower in coming than usual… An almost-complete list of the anniversary shows is up at the venue’s MySpace page and as for the remaining surprise guests, The Star accidentally let one of the names not officially announced slip – Blue Rodeo, most likely on either the 17th or 18th. How long do you think the line for THAT one is going to get?

The Movie Network offers a helpful guide to drug culture lingo to help you get into the right mindset for season five of The Wire, premiering in just over a month on January 6. Season four comes out on DVD tomorrow.

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Sidelines Of The City

I lived in Oshawa, Ontario once, about a decade ago, for four months. Just a Summer, whilst on a co-op work term. In that short time, my car – a harmless, innocuous 1985 Dodge Aries – was subject to all manner of indignities by the locals, including having the neutral safety switch disabled (someone climbed underneath in the middle of the night and unplugged it) and on another occasion, stealing my license plates (which were later recovered after said “local yokel” – the police officer’s term – put them on his own car and proceeded to run a red light). Now I didn’t have terrifically high opinion of the ‘Shwa before I lived there but these incidents certainly didn’t help.

That said, I’d like to think I’m a bigger person than to hold the actions of a few locals against the population of an entire city… but then that leaves me without an excuse for steadfastly ignoring Oshawans Cuff The Duke for so long. It’s not like they were off my radar – I saw them live some four years ago and was impressed, their first two records got good press and caught frontman Wayne Petti solo twice this year – yet their new one, Sidelines Of The City, is the first time I’ve ever sat down and actually listened to one. And no, it wasn’t a Damascene moment or anything, but it is a very good and tuneful record that deserves a mention.

Cuff The Duke have always been lumped in as an “alt-country” band, having started out in an era where that term could be used without wrapping it in quotes, but by album three it doesn’t seem like a wholly appropriate label. Their roots definitely still show but the musical affectations that one would normally associate with the style – steel guitar, whiskey-damaged vocals, sweaty blue-collar aesthetic – are either largely absent or used in moderation.

Instead, the Dukes offer earnest, lightly decorated folk-rock reminiscent of another Petti or Petty (as in Tom) with a dash of Big Star jangle. In other words, good stuff that’s as compact as it needs to be but capable of stretching way out – a balance that’s best exemplified by early on as the epic “Failure To Some” leads into the pop-perfect “Remember The Good Times”. But unlike his homonymic counterpart, Petti’s voice won’t drive anyone away – his high, clear voice perfectly compliments his direct, heartfelt songwriting, be it in a stomping rock number or bit of acoustic balladry. Those seeking riddles wrapped in enigmas in the lyrics booklet should look elsewhere – Petti’s pen deals in from-the-heart directness and detailed slice-of-life observationals with a good dose of wit though never clever for clever’s sake. Maybe the ‘Shwa isn’t so bad after all, though you’ll forgive me if my foot gets a little heavy on the gas whenever I pass Simcoe St on the 401…

Cuff The Duke are at the Mod Club tonight for an early show (doors at 6:30) with Land Of Talk and will be at Massey Hall opening for Blue Rodeo on February 28 and 29 of next year. They grace the cover of this week’s eye and are also the subject of features from Chart, BeatRoute and Canada.com. The band have also been keeping a tour blog at The National Post. The MP3s below come from Cuff The Duke’s first two records – to hear stuff from the new one, hit up their MySpace.

MP3: Cuff The Duke – “Take My Money And Run”
MP3: Cuff The Duke – “Ballad Of A Lonely Construction Worker”
MySpace: Cuff The Duke

Thick Specs invites the crew from Soundscapes to list off their top five local (meaning Toronto) albums of the year.

Dave’s Live Music Blog has some recordings from The Acorn’s show at the Horseshoe last weekend – including both support acts – that sound pretty terrific.

JAM! converses with Plants & Animals. They’re at the Mod Club December 14 opening for Patrick Watson.

Exclaim! and The Boston Globe talk to Richard Hawley, who makes his Toronto debut – with full band, if you were wondering – at the Horseshoe next Wednesday night. You cannot miss this show but if you don’t hurry up and get a ticket, you will.

Scotland’s Zephyrs have a new album (almost) in the can – Are You Fish People? – and are looking at a 2008 release. You can stream a couple tracks on their MySpace.

NME reports that the Manic Street Preachers will be giving away a Christmas track free to their newsletter subscribers starting tomorrow. Because nothing says Christmas like aging socialist revolutionary glam-punk rockers.

NPR is streaming a World Cafe session with Spoon.

The AV Club offers a primer on the brilliance that is the Coen Brothers.