Monday, June 28, 2010

The Gaslight Anthem — American Slang
The great undiscovered Bruce Springsteen album has been found, and it's called American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem.
The New Brunswick, N.J. quartet's third album, and the follow-up to 2008's The '59 Sound commercial breakthrough, offers 10 songs in 34 minutes. Those 10 tracks add up to one of the best records I've heard this year.
The Springsteen references may be obvious, but there's no escaping them since The Boss' sound is all over American Slang — perhaps aside from the final cut, "We Did It When We Were Young." It's my least favourite and I hear the influence of another stadium rock act in it: U2. The song starts slower than its predecessors and sort of builds, but not as much as expected.
Singer/lyricist/guitarist Brian Fallon is the focal point, as he should be, but guitarist Alex Rosamilia, drummer Benny Horowitz and bassist Alex Levine make major contributions to The Gaslight Anthem's punk- and soul-infused rock-and-roll. Producer Ted Hutt, who was also at the controls for The '59 Sound, obviously knows how to get the most out of the group, too.
There may not be songs as instantly catchy and anthemic as those found on The '59 Sound, but American Slang is a better and more consistent album overall.
You really can't go wrong with any of the songs on American Slang, and I don't seem to be the only person who shares that opinion. The public has picked up on The Gaslight Anthem, as American Slang debuted at #12 on the Canadian sales chart and four spots lower in the U.S. last week.
I'll give American Slang a 9/10 and remind everyone that The Gaslight Anthem will be touring across North America in July and August — including a show at Toronto's Sound Academy on July 14 and an appearance at Montreal's Osheaga Music And Arts Festival on Aug. 1.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Anti-Climactic Walk Through Toronto's G20 Protest Sites
One of the hot spots (and where one of three cars were torched) of Saturday's G20 protests in Toronto was at Queen and Spadina, so I walked over there after dinner around 9 p.m. I met Horseshoe Tavern door guy Roger and assistant manager Joe, who told me they had shut the bar (which is located at that intersection) down for the night and that the bands that had been booked to play were told to stay home.
At the intersection, a small group of non-violent protesters were sitting in the middle of the street facing an intimidating lineup of police in full riot gear that had blocked off Queen. 
"You're sexy, you're cute, take off your riot suits," the protesters chanted at the cops.
It was relatively quiet, so I moved west, weaving on and off of Queen Street depending on if I was allowed access or not, since it wasn't completely shut down. I walked up University Avenue past the U.S. consulate, which was fenced off and had a large police presence guarding it.
About a block north of that, a female officer yelled at me to stop. 
"You don't look like the type of person who should be pregnant," she said, before asking to see what the bump was under my jacket. 
It was raining lightly and I had my shoulder bag with my camera and notepad hanging over my neck and resting on my lower chest underneath my jacket. I unzipped and showed her that I was harmless. She laughed and seemed quite nice, and was also cute, so I continued to talk and joke and flirt with her for a couple of minutes before she said she had to return to the police lineup.
I continued north to Queen's Park, which had been designated as an official protest area, and it was deserted. There weren't even any police around. I could have easily done something destructive to the home of the Ontario government had I wanted to, despite the billion-dollar security bill that has been racked up for the G20 events.
Television reports before I left my house said protesters were moving north to Bloor Street, but there were none there by the time I arrived. I continued west on Bloor to The Beer Station, where I had a pint of Strongbow and watched more news coverage.
Then it was time to head a couple of doors down the street to see Ted Leo & The Pharmacists at Lee's Palace. You can read the review of that show on on Monday.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Andre Williams — That's All I Need
Now well into his seventies, and with lots of hard living packed into most of those years, Williams is finally showing signs of slowing down in his performances and on this latest Bloodshot Records release.
The Black Godfather talks more than sings on these 10 tracks, which are less raunchy than we've come to expect (even 2008's Can You Deal With It? was full of the sexual swagger that Williams has built much of his reputation on) and are largely blues-based, with touches of psychedelic soul and rock-and-roll thrown in.
Williams seems to be looking back at his life and taking stock in quite a few of these cuts, including the title track, "My Time Will Come" and "There Ain't No Such Thing As Good Dope." Coming from a guy whose drug addiction was so serious that he was homeless for a while, that last title means something.
Just as noteworthy as Williams' contributions to these 10 self-penned tunes are those of his backing band, which includes Funk Brothers guitarist Dennis Coffey, members of the Dirtbombs, the Witches, the Sights and Electric Six, as well as producer/guitarist/arranger Matthew Smith (Outrageous Cherry, Volebeats). The guitar work is especially impressive on "Just Call Me" and "Tricks."
I often wondered if Williams could grow old gracefully, but he seems to be doing just that on That's All I Need.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

North By Northeast Photos


Man Or Astro-Man?
The Soft Pack

Surfer Blood

The Raveonettes

Iggy And The Stooges

The Stanfields

Arkells (and friends)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cruising The Mediterranean Sea For 12 Days
One of the most enjoyable and cost-efficient ways of seeing many of the highlights of southern Europe is on Mediterranean cruises.
I used Rome as my pre- and post-cruise base not only because it's one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world to explore for a few days, but because it's a relaxing 80-minute train ride to the port town of Civitavecchia, where many cruise ships dock.
The Carnival Freedom was my ship of choice, particularly for its itinerary, but also for its food and recreation options, choice of bars and other amenities.
The first stop was the Italian city of Naples, from which we took a 30-minute train ride to the ruins of Pompeii, which was home to 30,000 people before it was brought to a halt after the 79 AD eruption of the nearby Mount Vesuvius volcano. You can easily spend the whole day wandering around the 45 hectares that have been excavated since the site was discovered in 1748.
A day at sea was followed by a day in a city I'd never been to before but instantly became one of my favourites: Dubrovnik, Croatia. The best way to take it all in is by walking around the top of the 1,940 metres of walls — including bastions, casemates, towers and detached forts — that enclose the old part of the city. The walls were built from the ninth to 14th centuries, are up to 25 metres in height, and offer breathtaking views of both the old buildings in the interior (some of which have been rebuilt after a 1978 earthquake and shelling from the 1992 civil war that broke up the former Yugoslavia) and the sea.
Dubrovnik is across the Adriatic Sea from the world's most renowned city of canals: Venice, Italy. The Freedom docked there overnight, allowing two days to explore all of the nooks and crannies of the difficult-to-navigate (especially at night) but romantic city. I'd previously visited Venice in the summer, but preferred it this second time in mid-October. It's not as hot, there are fewer tourists to deal with and the canals don't smell as bad.
Another day at sea took us to the Italian island of Sicily, which is southwest of the boot-shaped country's toe. The ship docked in Messina, which I walked around for about an hour. But a scenic hour-long train ride took me to the picturesque hilltop town of Taormina, about 200 metres above sea level. I first visited the Greek Theatre, parts of which date as far back as the third century B.C. You can see Europe's highest active volcano, Mount Etna, from there on a clear day. The rest of my time was spent strolling around the quaint town, where parts of The Godfather was filmed.
It was time to hit the open sea for another day before we arrived in another one of my favourite cities: Barcelona, Spain. The incredible Antonio Gaudi architecture is enough of a draw, but the city's other subtle charms will draw you in and make you want to return. I've been there three times and would have no objections to a fourth visit.
The Freedom was supposed to dock in Monte Carlo, which I'd been to before, but rain and rough seas made that impossible. We went to the Italian city of Genoa instead. Aside from knowing that Christopher Columbus was from there, I had little knowledge of Genoa and no desire to go there. But it has three walking routes — Medieval, Renaissance and Marina — and we took them all. There's lots of history and beautiful architecture to take in, and I now have no problems recommending Genoa.
Our next port was the Italian coastal city of Livorno. There's little to see there, so we took a 20-minute train ride to Pisa. It was a 20-minute walk from the station to the city's most notable structure, the infamous leaning tower. The surrounding cathedrals at the site were also worthwhile, but the rest of the city lacks much character so we returned to the train station and continued our journey with an hour-long ride to Florence.
The Duomo is one of the most spectacular buildings I've ever seen, and it helped put Florence in perspective for me as a great city, even without seeing the art masterpieces in its numerous museums and galleries. There was lots of other stunning architecture to take in during the four hours we got to spend in Florence before returning on the train back to Livorno.
The 12-day cruise returned to where it started, Civitavecchia, and from there it was back to enjoy the wonders of Rome for two more days.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Afternoon At Montreal's Brutopia
If you're looking for a getaway to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America, why not take advantage of cheap flights to Montreal.
And what better way to spend those savings than on beer -- microbrewed draught beer made in small batches on the premises, to be more specific. Perhaps the most centrally located place to do this in Montreal is at Brutopia, a downtown brew pub that opened in 1997 on the always hopping Ste. Catherine Street strip.
There's lots of food to choose from — including tapas, sandwiches and finger food — if you're feeling peckish. And there's live music pretty much every night to help your pints go down more pleasantly.
Brutopia has three bars on three floors and three terraces to sit on and enjoy the sunshine. I spent on an afternoon on the small front patio doing just that a few weeks ago. I tried three of Brutopia's seasonal beers and one that's on the menu constantly.

Here's a look at what I sampled:
Raspberry Blonde is a fruity blonde ale with a slight raspberry bouquet. There's little head when the medium to dark gold-coloured beer is poured. Though it definitely has a raspberry flavour, I unfortunately found it somewhat generic and flat. This one is available year-round.
As you'd probably guess by the name, Ginger Cream Ale pours very creamy and has a large head that dissipates as the beer settles into a cloudy light gold colour. The ginger element wasn't nearly as sharp as I would have liked, either in taste or aroma. It was refreshing, but ultimately disappointing.
The Chocolate Stout is a very dark brown and has the nice creamy head you should expect from a stout. There's not much of a bouquet, but the dark roasted malt provides a blend of dark chocolate, coffee and nutty flavours. It was okay, but nothing exceptional.
The seasonal I was most excited about was Rocket Fuel, which the bar charges more for and only serves in half-pint measures (unlike those above which came as full pints) because of its nine-per-cent alcohol content. It had a dark amber colour and an earthy bouquet to go along with a noticeably hoppy flavour. This was the best of the bunch.

Brutopia is open from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m six days a week, while opening three hours earlier on Fridays. Happy hour pricing is in effect from opening until 8 p.m. every day except Monday, when it lasts all day and night.
Brutopia is located at 1219 Crescent St. between Ste. Catherine and Rene Levesque. You can visit its web site or give it a call at (514) 393-9277 to find out more information.
Trying To Get The Kinks To "Do It Again"
The reunion of the original lineup of The Kinks — lead singer/guitarist Ray Davies, his brother and lead guitarist/vocalist Dave Davies, bassist Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory — is something that fans have dreamed about since Quaife's 1969 departure.
That dream became an obsession and a quest for Boston Globe reporter Geoff Edgers, who set out a personal mission for himself to have the four men patch their differences and return to the stage. Do It Again, a documentary which had its Canadian premiere at Toronto's North By Northeast Film Festival on Wednesday afternoon and will appear at other festivals in the coming weeks and months, is Edgers' story.
Do It Again is named after a 1985 Kinks single and obviously has a larger meaning connected to Edgers' aim, which he tries to achieve by contacting not only the band members but their associates and prominent musicians and fans. We hear phone conversations with Quaife, Yoko Ono and actor John Cusack, but it's the folks who appear on-screen who are most interesting because they also play a part in Edgers' other goal: to have them perform Kinks songs with him during their interviews.
It's a somewhat egotistical concept — as is the film itself, I suppose. But if I was trying to relive my high school musician days and meeting heroes who share a passion for The Kinks, I'd probably do the same.
Not all of Edgers' subjects agree to his requests, most notably Paul Weller when asked to reprise The Jam's cover of "David Watts." He calls the idea "naff."
But we do get to see: Robyn Hitchcock talking about and playing "Waterloo Sunset" as Edgers accompanies him on banjo; Zooey Deschanel impressing with her knowledge of The Kinks catalogue and singing "David Watts;" Sting expressing his admiration and playing a bit of "You Really Got Me" and then singing along as Edgers plays "Set Me Free;" Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey pontificating and performing "Get Back In Line," with R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin joining in on percussion; and Dave Davies reflecting on his relationship with his older sibling before strumming and singing "Strangers."
It's quite poignant when Dave says that the only time Ray has been happy is in the first three years of his life before his little brother came along.
Edgers attends a Kinks convention in London, England where he spends time with members of the fan club and the Kastoff Kinks, a band comprised of many of the guys who played in later Kinks lineups from the '70s through the early '90s. Ray Davies even makes an appearance and sings "Days" with his old cronies, but declines interview requests — as he had every previous time he was asked by Edgers — and forbids the documentarian from filming his performance.
I've interviewed Ray Davies once, met him on two other occasions, and have seen him perform four times. I always found him to be engaging and friendly. But while I'll always admire his creative talents, the attitude and behaviour attributed to him in Do It Again has made him a slightly less well-respected man in my eyes.
Edgers' crusade inevitably results in failure and, after talking to Dave Davies, he comes to the conclusion that it wouldn't be healthy for the involved parties if The Kinks did reform. It's fun to follow him along for the ride, however, and Edgers' dedication to his cause deserved my applause.

On a somewhat related note, I also want to bring people's attention to another NXNE documentary that will be shown at 8:15 p.m. tonight (Thurs. June 17) at the Toronto headquarters of the National Film Board: the 50-minute The Watchmen, All Uncovered.
Watchmen drummer Sammy Kohn is a friend, and I look forward to seeing him at tonight's premiere of a film that revolves around a reunion show at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, another appearance at the MTS Centre in the members' former hometown of Winnipeg, and interviews with all of the guys in the band, interspersed with archival footage and photographs. You can watch a trailer for the film on The Watchmen's web site.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Delta Spirit — History From Below
I enjoyed some of Delta Spirit's 2008 full-length debut, Ode To Sunshine, and its set I saw in support of it at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas last year, which left me curious to hear History From Below.
Albums don't get off to much better starts than this Rounder Records release does with the irresistible "9/11," one of the best pop-rock tracks that I've heard this year. Nothing else matches this high point, but there was enough material in the remaining 10 tracks to keep my interest. Foremost among these was the rockier "Bushwick Blues," a more up-tempo roots rock song with piano titled "Golden State," the multi-dimensional and horns-infused "St. Francis" and the rootsy ballad "Vivian," whose piano and harmonies reminded me of The Band.
There's a choral section and what sounded like theremin in the acoustic-based "Ransom Man" and pedal steel in "Devil Knows Your Dead," which collects a number of expressions that wish people well and assembles them into a song. The gentle acoustic ballad "Scarecrow" is the most lo-fi thing on the disc, and things conclude with the eight-minute "Ballad Of Vitaly" — another acoustic ballad that picks up the pace somewhat in a few sections. 
History From Below was produced by Delta Spirit, My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster and Elijah Thomson, and MMJ's Carl Broemel is responsible for the pedal steel on "Devil Knows Your Dead."
Delta Spirit has hit the road from its San Diego base and will play Toronto's Mod Club on June 26.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dictator Andy Shernoff Hits The Right Notes
Andy Shernoff is one of the unheralded heroes of rock-and-roll.
Shernoff founded the proto-punk, garage rock band The Dictators in 1973 and has gone on to work as a songwriter, musician and producer with a variety of artists — including The Fleshtones, The Ramones, The Figgs, D Generation, The Smithereens, Guided By Voices and many others.
Shernoff's latest project is a "musical memoir" called When Giants Walked The Earth, a 90-minute performance where he tells stories from his past and plays acoustic versions of his songs. He made a stop at Toronto's Mitzi's Sister on Thursday night to play for an appreciative audience of about 65 people.
"Some people believe in God, but I believed in rock-and-roll," said Shernoff off the top, before recounting his high-school days with other up-and-coming rockers in Queens, New York City in the late '60s.
The first song Shernoff performed was the first he ever wrote about his hometown, "New York, New York," for his first band, The Dictators. Other names considered but dropped before deciding on that moniker included Vomit On A Nun and Cancer Of The Penis.
The Dictators were taken under the wing of eccentric rock writer Richard Meltzer (who Shernoff said used to pick up dead animals off the street, embed them in Jell-O and keep them in the fridge) and Blue Oyster Cult songwriter, producer and manager Sandy Pearlman and, just six months after forming, were signed to Epic Records. The group's first show was opening for Iggy And The Stooges shortly after the release of its Raw Power album, which initially was a commercial flop before gaining fans over the years.
The Dictators' 1975 Go Girl Crazy! debut album featured "Master Race Rock," the second song Shernoff performed during the night. That album also includes a cover of The Rivieras' 1964 hit, "California Sun," which Fox Sports will be using to promote its televised coverage of this year's Major League Baseball all-star game in Anaheim, Calif.
Shernoff's third song was the title track he wrote for David Method Roter's 1997 album, "Find Something Beautiful," which opens with the line "Your face is pockmarked and you're as dumb as wood."
Go Girl Crazy! sold poorly and the band was dropped by Epic, but was soon picked up by Elektra/Asylum Records for its second album, 1977's Manifest Destiny. Shernoff played a song from the record and talked about touring England in support of it by opening for The Stranglers. He met Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious during this period, and said he was the biggest jerk he'd ever met.
Shernoff performed "Baby, Let's Twist" from 1978's Bloodbrothers, and the song had former U.I.C. and The Chickens members Fred and Dave Robinson singing along to the chorus. Perhaps we're now one step closer to a reunion by one of those groups, but that's probably just wishful thinking.
Manitoba's Wild Kingdom spun off of The Dictators and released a 1990 album through MCA titled And You? that featured the song "Haircut And Attitude," which is what Shernoff described as the key ingredients for a lot of successful bands from his least favourite musical decade: the '80s. He played that number and followed it with "You're Never Gonna See Me Cry," a song he co-wrote for former Shangri-Las singer Mary Weiss' 2007 comeback album, Dangerous Game.
Teenage Head guitarist Gord Lewis picked up an acoustic guitar and joined Shernoff on stage for Bloodbrothers' "Stay With Me" and the set's remaining three songs.
This took us to The Ramones portion of the evening. Shernoff described Dee Dee Ramone as an "idiot savant" and a "paranoid schizophrenic who slept with every man and woman he could." He alluded to a tryst between the late bassist and members of The Bay City Rollers and recounted Dee Dee urinating in Johnny Thunders' guitar case in Stiv Bators' room. He performed a song the two wrote together called "Chinese Bitch" from Ramone's 1994 solo album, I Hate Freaks Like You.
Shernoff was very close to Joey Ramone, and talked about the singer's obsessive compulsive disorder, collaborating on his posthumously released Don't Worry About Me solo album and being in the hospital room when the lanky vocalist passed away on April 15, 2001 after a seven-year battle with lymphoma. Shernoff sang "Stop Thinking About It," which he co-wrote for the record.
The Dictators released their D.F.F.D. comeback album in 2001, and Shernoff offered its lead track, "Who Will Save Rock And Roll?," to what he thought would conclude his "first international folk singing show." But the audience demanded one more song and Shernoff obliged with Bloodbrothers' "I Stand Tall."
My description can't do justice to how entertaining and interesting Shernoff's show was. He's done about a dozen of them and will do more through July. Anyone interested in New York's '70s punk rock scene should definitely try and see the show, which only cost seven bucks last night.
I appropriately bookended Shernoff's performance with before and after appearances at the opening night of You're Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, a photo exhibition of black-and-white shots taken by Vince Carlucci between 1975 and 1978. The Cardboard Brains co-founder and current Station Twang member captured intimate looks at performances by Iggy Pop (with David Bowie on keyboards), Blondie, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Ramones, John Cale, The Viletones, Teenage Head, The Diodes and The Ugly.
Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell can be viewed at OZ Studios at 134 Ossington Ave. until June 24. While you're there, be sure to stop next door at Reposado for the finest tequila in the city or an excellent pint of Duggan's Brewery's #9 IPA.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Madafakaz make a big impression
I'd never heard of The Madafakaz before I was invited to see it play in the cozy Bar Populaire on Montreal's St. Laurent last Saturday night, but the quartet kept me thoroughly entertained throughout its headlining set.
The band took the hometown stage (well, it would have if the venue had one, but it set up on the floor because it didn't) with all four members wearing nylon stockings over their heads. But this was no bar heist, though the group managed to steal my heart.
The nylons were soon cast aside as The Madafakaz ripped into a set of largely instrumental rock 'n' roll that was filled with surf, twang, reverb and attitude. With the occasional song that had lyrics, I was reminded somewhat of Jon Spencer's Heavy Trash.
The Madafakaz feature the totally talented two-guitar attack of Philippe "Phang" Hughes and Frederic "R.J." St-Aubin backed by the very capable rhythm section of bassist Emmanuel "Snake" St-Aubin and drummer Frederic "Claw" Martineau. But as well as these guys play, they're all about having fun and making sure that their audience does as well.
After plowing through a number of originals, the group capped the night off with some ace covers of the "Hawaii Five-O Theme," "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'' (during which some of the crowd members lifted the singer on to their shoulders), the "Spider-Man" theme and The Chantays' "Pipeline."
I'd been partaking of a number of microbrews throughout the afternoon and night and wasn't sure how much that had to do with my enjoyment of The Madafakaz. But the band gave me a copy of its 12-song self-titled album and — although it doesn't quite capture the excitement of the live performance — it shows that these four bilingual young men are on the right track.
My favourite songs include the opener "Crazy Beach," the eastern European-influenced "Baboushka," "Hotrod Stewart," "Mermaid Ceviche" and the quirky "Human Behavior." You can listen to some of the songs on the band's MySpace page.
If you're into the instrumental numbers from The Sadies, Los Straitjackets or some of the other top rock 'n' roll instrumental groups around these days, add The Madafakaz to your list of bands to see and hear. This outfit is too good to remain relatively unknown.