Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Friday 
I was invited by a member of my baseball team to play in a four-on-four, skins format volleyball tournament on Friday. We didn't win any money, but it was good exercise and a lot of fun. I got to do a lot of scrambling around, diving and setting, which I don't get to do as much for We Still Go Down, our six-person co-ed volleyball team that inexplicably won the Thursday night intermediate division in the Toronto Sport and Social Club league last week. Thanks to Mark for inviting me, and Bob and Richie for also being on Friday's team.

I drove home from Scarborough, got a quick bite to eat, made myself look reasonably presentable and went to The Velvet Underground for XM Satellite Radio Canada's The Verge's "Thank God It's Not Another Xmas Party." I was given a guitar pick with a Molson Canadian logo on it upon arrival, which was good for a free can. I'm not a fan of the beer, but I guess I can't argue with free, and there was no other alternative available.

I arrived too late to see Dinosaur Bones, but was there to see Toronto's Still Life Still take the stage at 10 p.m. The band's Girls Come Too debut full-length was released by Arts & Crafts this summer, and there were quite a few girls at the foot of the stage who had obviously come to see the dance-rock group that dedicated its set to iconoclastic club booker Dan Burke. The sound was kind of muddy and the vocals were mixed too low, but the sound improved as the 35-minute set went on. I thought the group was okay, but nothing exceptional.

Meligrove Band was what I wanted to see most, and the quartet hit the stage at 10:55. I really liked the group's 2000 debut, Stars & Guitars, and was reasonably impressed with 2002's Let It Grow and 2006's Planets Conspire, which was released by V2 Records before it went out of business. I used to see the group a fair amount early this decade, but it had been a few years since I last caught a show. The band seems to have a harder rocking sound than what I remember from the past, and the last song was almost metallic. A new album is finished and the Meligroves are talking to labels about releasing it next year.

The Verge's Jeff Leake is always good for funneling me free drinks at his events, and tonight was no different. Thanks again, Leake.

Arts & Crafts' David Tysowski told me that his band, The Order Of Good Cheer, is the opening act for Tuesday's "Bookie & Arkells' 2nd Annual Holiday Bash" at the Horseshoe Tavern. Hollerado (perhaps singer/guitarist Menno Versteeg will want me to cut his hair again) is also on the bill, and I've had fun every time I've seen it. Arkells will top things of by performing a Motown dance party set. It's free, but collections will be taken to support the OSPCA and The Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada. It should be a good night and, if I'm on pace to get all my assignments done before Christmas, I'll be there.

The Junction was the final band of Friday's concert. The quartet plays slightly alternative rock and, again, I thought the set was satisfactory but nothing special. I thought I heard the group doing The Cure's "Close To Me" as I walked upstairs from the washroom, but it was an original with a similar melody. But I know for sure that The Junction did a Pink Floyd cover. I think it was "Welcome To The Machine," but I was chatting at the bar and wasn't listening that closely, so I won't say that with 100-per-cent certainty.
The Junction ended at 12:40. I talked some more, had a nightcap, and walked home.

np The Paperbacks — Lit From Within

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The changing look of the Bowery 
I've usually hung out around the Lower East Side, East Village and Greenwich Village at night during my occasional New York City breaks, and always thought it would be cool and convenient to stay in the heart of the area, so I booked into the St. Marks Hotel in historic St. Mark's Place.
The rooms are small and spartan, but it's hard to beat the price and the location just north of the Bowery. Plus, you can say that you stayed in the same building where the late and notoriously nasty punk rocker, GG Allin, once lived.
But the Bowery and the surrounding neighbourhood has changed a bit since I was last here. There have been two nice additions, but one major and unfortunate subtraction.
The Cooper Union's new academic building just opened this past summer and the environmentally friendly structure is quite stunning. See for yourself:
The other edifice isn't quite as new, but is just as interesting. The seven-storey New Museum (located at 235 Bowery between Stanton and Rivington streets) was designed by Tokyo-based architects and houses a variety of contemporary art. As far as I'm concerned, the building itself is a piece of art:

I'd trade both of these beautiful buildings, however, for the return of a badly missed dive bar, but legendary live music venue: CBGB.
Patti Smith closed the club with a performance in October 2006, and the location at  315 Bowery near Bleecker Street has been converted into a John Varvatos retail store. The place where The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television and many other great bands first made names for themselves is now selling overpriced, trendy, urban chic menswear.
But at least the store has retained some of CBGB's grungy atmosphere and kept some of the old walls — covered in posters, stickers and graffiti — as they were. That still wasn't incentive enough to spend any money in the store. Let's call it a combination of silent protest and me being cheap.
Gentrification can have some advantages in certain cases. I just hope it doesn't totally overtake the Bowery. I prefer live music over leather belts. Here are two shots of what CBGB has become:

Take a walk with me on New York City's High Line

It's the hustle and bustle that attracts many people to the Big Apple, but one of the best New York City breaks to escape all of that — without leaving a couple of Manhattan's trendiest neighbourhoods — is the High Line.
The High Line was originally an elevated railway line built in the 1930s to take trains off streets and eliminate accidents, but had become an unused eyesore since the final locomotive (pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys) used it in 1980. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has now transformed it into a cutting-edge public park that offers excellent views of Manhattan and the Hudson River, even though it's only 30 feet off the ground.
While some of the railroad ties remain and add character, the safely lit High Line now also features concrete paths bordered with gardens and trees. There's also a water feature and fountains, commissioned artwork, a sun deck, restrooms and fixed and movable benches that allow you can sit and relax. If you want a snack, a limited number of regularly changing local vendors are permitted to sell their goodies.
One of the most intriguing parts of the High Line is 10th Avenue Square, which features stepped benches leading down to a viewing platform with a window that looks directly up the street.
Tours, lectures, performances and events are scheduled regularly for the security-patrolled structure.
The first section of the wheelchair-accessible High Line opened in June 2009 and runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 20th Street between 10th and 11th avenues in Chelsea. It can be accessed along the route on 14th, 16th and 18th streets, with the first two of those having elevators.
A second section running to West 30th Street is expected to open sometime in 2010 and will include a lawn area for picnics. When the final section is added, the High Line will continue up to and around the West Side Rail Yards at West 34th Street by the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. It will be 1.45 miles long at completion.
Old warehouses and factories in the surrounding former industrial area have been transformed into art galleries, design studios, stores, restaurants, museums, condominiums and apartments. The eco-friendly High Line should only inspire more positive development and make other local building owners take better care of the many rooftops people pass by while strolling its path.
About the only negative thing I can think of about the innovative High Line is that you can't walk dogs on it.
A similar rail viaduct has been converted into a park in Paris France called the Promenade Plantée. Similar projects are being developed in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Chicago and Rotterdam. If Toronto's Gardiner Expressway is ever taken out of service, as some people would like to see, a High Line-like park would be a great use of part of it.
The High Line is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily during the winter and until 10 p.m. when the days get longer and warmer.
Take a walk north along the High Line with me with these photos I took in August:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grant Hart's still hot, on wax and on stage

Grant Hart's Hot Wax, which came out a couple of months ago, surprised me by how good it was — considering it was his first album in 10 years. And now I can say the same thing about his performance in support of the disc.
But first, I should also pay respect to opening act Massey Harris, composed of veteran Toronto musicians Scott Bradshaw and Gord Cumming. Bradshaw's acoustic and Cumming's sublime slide guitar blend wonderfully, and Cumming's backing vocals similarly complement Bradshaw's leads.
The duo's set featured both Bradshaw originals, including the terrific "Way Beyond The Nicotine," and well-chosen covers that included Fred Eaglesmith's "Little Buffalo," Bob Dylan's "Something's Burning, Baby" and Willie P. Bennett's "Job Disorder."
A much bigger crowd witnessed Bradshaw (as part of Groovy Religion) open for Hart (as part of Husker Du) 22 years ago, but the 100-or-so people that came out to the gig showed warm appreciation for Massey Harris.

Hart, looking positively Parisian with a black beret and thin moustache, took the stage at 11:15 p.m. and played until almost 1 a.m. While he's best known as a drummer for his time in Husker Du, Hart has played guitar with Nova Mob and as a solo artist — and he handled his Gibson hollow body electric guitar (adorned with a Canadian flag decal) pretty well.
Hart's set covered his whole career, including the most recent chapter with Hot Wax's "You're The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water," "Barbara," "I Knew All About You Since Then," "Narcissus, Narcissus" and "My Regrets." There were other solo songs (including my favourite, the brilliant "2541"), and Nova Mob's "The Last Days Of Pompeii" drew some whoops from a few fans up front.
But it was the large number of Husker Du songs that probably elicited the biggest responses. "Never Talking To You" and "The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill" were good, but "Charity, Chastity, Prudence And Hope" really showcased Hart's gift for writing rocking yet melodic songs. The 27-song main set also featured Husker Du's "Back From Somewhere," "Turn On The News" and a great "Green Eyes."
Hart had taken requests near the end of his set, and did again after stepping off the stage for less than a minute and returning for an encore of four Husker Du songs.
"It's Not Funny Anymore" was followed by "Keep Hangin' On," but it was the third song that really hit home for me. "Diane," which depicts a brutal rape and murder, might lack the shock value it had when it first appeared on 1983's Metal Circus and doesn't have the visceral force of Husker Du's version, but it's still very powerful. Things ended on a more upbeat note with "Flexible Flyer," which left the audience wanting more.
Although Hart looks a bit pale and thin, and maybe even slightly sickly, his set was much longer than when former Husker Du bandmate (and nemesis) Bob Mould performed at Toronto's Mod Club a few months ago. And he seemed in good spirits and was friendly when I briefly talked to him, so hopefully all is well.
Sure, it would have been better to hear full band versions of most of these songs. And I was disappointed that my request for "Books About UFOs" fell by the wayside. But apart from those very minor quibbles, I'm sure that the members of the too-small audience would agree that they definitely got a good bang for their buck.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

D. Trevlon takes his chances with new record

D. Trevlon's To: The Dusty Moon And You was one of my favourite albums of 2005. He followed the folk-country record with 2007's seven-song Dance Under The Stars EP. Like its predecessor, it was an acoustic record with gently stirring songs that managed to embed themselves in both your head and heart.
The Kirkland Lake, Ont. native, who now resides on Canada's west coast, saved $1,600 and recently went into Vancouver's The Hive studios with guitarist Johnny Wildcat (Mongoose) and drummer Stephen Lyons (Fond Of Tigers). They came out with eight new songs on a still unreleased record Trevlon plans on titling I'll Take My Chances.
"I wanted to call it I'll Take My Chances because I had no idea what was going to happen," says the singer, songwriter, whistler and musician. "I was getting bored of playing the solo folk thing and needed a change."
Producer/engineer Jesse Gander recorded the music live off the floor and also played keyboards on two tracks. Trevlon and Wildcat played bass.
Record opener "Man Of Investigation" is more up-tempo than Trevlon's past solo material, as are several other tracks. "Headin' Home" is a catchy pop-rock number, while "Operator" is an excellent power-pop song.
There's some impressive guitar work on the slower, blues-based "See It In Your Eyes" and the quicker-paced "Original Girl" and "Sunset."
Piano and backing vocals make "On A Mountain" stand out, and the record ends in a relatively slow and gentle way with "Frozen Blue Star."
Trevlon took his chances and now has a band and an album that you should keep an eye out for sometime next year.
You can find out more about Trevlon and hear some of his older tunes on his MySpace and SonicBids pages.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I made the Jingle Bell Rocks! blog:
Los Straitjackets, El Vez, The El Vettes and Santez
There was lots of fun to be had at Toronto's Lee's Palace on Tuesday night when the Flying Bordellos, Los Straitjackets and El Vez with his lovely El Vettes hit the stage for a holiday season-themed show we'll call Mex-Mas.
Santez was on hand to document the night by taking notes and photos. He also raised money for The Kidney Foundation Of Canada by allowing fans to have their pictures taken with him in exchange for a five-dollar contribution to the charity. He matched all the donations and is sending a $90 cheque off this week.
If you weren't at the show, but want to feel like you were, check out this review and these photos from the evening:


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Robyn Hitchcock — I Often Dream Of Trains In New York

This performance of Hitchcock's third solo album, 1984's primarily acoustic I Often Dream Of Trains, was recorded at New York City's Symphony Space 53 weeks ago.
Hitchcock was joined at the acoustic concert by Terry Edwards (vocals, keyboards, trumpet, soprano sax, guitar), Tim Keegan (vocals, guitar), Gaida Hinnawi (vocals) and Amir El Saffar (trumpet).
I Often Dream Of Trains isn't among my favourite albums from Hitchcock's catalogue (including his Soft Boys and Egyptians records) and contains few songs that I've seen him play live, apart from the excellent "Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl," which starts the CD as a "cassette fragment."
Most of the songs are pretty gentle and mellow, but pleasant pop material can be found in "Sounds Great When You're Dead," "This Could Be The Day," "Ye Sleeping Knights Of Jesus" (which was covered by The Replacements on 1985's The Shit Hits The Fans live album), the title track, "I Used To Say I Love You," "My Favourite Buildings," "That's Fantastic Mother Church," "America," "Up To Our Nex" and "Goodnight I Say."
The one song that really stands out for its uniqueness is the a cappella "Uncorrected Personality Traits," which comes across as Monty Python meets a barbershop quartet.
This package also includes a DVD of the concert that features an introduction, soundcheck, credits and a short film called Beyond Basingstoke. Like with most of the DVDs I own, I haven't had a chance to sit down and watch it yet.
I Often Dream Of Trains In New York probably isn't essential for most Hitchcock fans, but more dedicated followers (I'm staring right at you, Craig Laskey) should have a stronger appreciation.